Music by Richard Rodgers
Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
The Lowry, 23 May 2012
Context is absolutely key to understanding the impact of Carousel when it opened on Broadway in 1945.
The Second World War had come to an end, but many of the men that America had sent overseas had failed to return. There then came Carousel, a musical that’s in part about how a man returns from the grave to aid his ailing daughter. His return being accompanied by the stirring song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, recognised immediately as a classic. Be in no doubt, it was powerful stuff – and it still is, as this admirable production makes plain.
Eric Greene’s central performance as Billy Bigelow is brilliant; the set and lighting design is inventive and effective, especially in the transition from heaven to earth in scene 3; and the use of Agnes de Mille’s choreography was a masterstroke. To pick out other things to admire would be easy an’ all.
Indeed, I have only two qualms. The first is the really rather romantic attitude to domestic abuse: ‘When a man hits you, can it feel like a kiss?’ a daughter asks her mother. She doesn’t answer: ‘No, not really.’ The second is with that classic, hymn-like song (the two were fond of these kind of songs, recall ‘Climb Every Mountain’) and in particular with the line ‘walk on / with hope in your heart’ – for once you depend on hope, you’re already lost to God. A true Christian has a faith that fear cannot ever touch. Hope is for heathens, if they want it.