Premiered in 1945, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel has remained a favourite for professional and amateur revivals ever since. Distinctly American, it is nevertheless based on a Hungarian play by Ferenc Molnár, Liliom. In the original, the hero dies and is led to Hell in an ending of European pessimism; for Carousel, the American composing duo transferred the story to Maine, USA and grafted a layer of sugary optimism onto this otherwise decidedly dark narrative.
Director Lindsay Posner’s revival opens in a whirl of colour and movement as designer William Dudley projects the image of a revolving carousel on to a stage-wide gauze screen. The young inhabitants of this coastal, New England community mill around the fairground, taking turns on the various rides and queuing to ride on the carousel, where the girls are subjected to the manly charms of carousel barker Billy Bigelow. Among them, pretty mill worker Julie Jordan is of particular interest to Billy, who swiftly seduces her under a blossom tree. In what is a surprise to them both, they quickly marry.
The scene is set for a love story with a dark edge, as charismatic ne’er-do-well Billy, having lost his job at the fairground, becomes surly and morose, mistreats his new wife and lets his equally ne’er-do-well friends convince him to take part in a money-making scheme that leads to tragedy. But in this tragedy there is a chance for a happy ending as the inhabitants of the next world allow him a stab at redeeming his actions in the last.
Jeremiah James as Billy and Alexandra Silber – who was last at the Savoy in Fiddler On The Roof – as Julie display impressive voices as they work their way through Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lengthy score. Silber endows Julie with a strength of character that shows nothing of the naivety with which the heroine is often labelled. Instead, James’s thug-with-a-heart Billy shows more naivety and less strength in both his actions and his inability to express his emotions.
Elsewhere in this large cast, Lesley Garrett, as Julie’s kindly, buxom cousin Nettie, leads big number June Is Bustin’ Out All Over and provides a highlight in the famous, emotional song You’ll Never Walk Alone. Lauren Hood plays Julie’s best friend Carrie as a simpering innocent who is a good match for Alan Vicary’s staid Enoch Snow. That couple, more than anything, root this musical firmly in its time. As their duet When The Children Are Asleep shows, this is a time in which men can wed whom they like, women should be grateful for being chosen, and a wife’s future is founded on kids and housework.
Choreographer Adam Cooper gives the production energy in his high-kicking interpretations of the big ensemble dances, and tenderness in his fantasy ballet in which dearly departed Billy looks down on the life he left behind.