Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is a Tony Award-winning classic that has made its way to the stage of The Lyric Opera. It has been touted as a classic love story filled with both heartache and redemption. Having no prior knowledge of Carousel, I assumed it would be somewhere along the lines of Grease. I thought it would feature the typical sweet innocent girl that can’t resist the charm of the bad boy. And like Grease, I knew it would have catchy show tunes and musical numbers that would be stuck in my head for days. Needless to say, I was right because I am still humming along to “June is Bustin’ Out All Over”.
When the play first begins, we are introduced to carnival ride operator Billy Bigelow played by Steven Pasquale and the sweet naive millworker Julie Jordan played by Laura Osnes. Billy is loud and boisterous and in my opinion anything but charming. He is no gentleman, yet all of the ladies love Billy Bigelow. One such girl that falls for him instantly is Julie Jordan. Risking losing her job as a millworker, she even stays late after hours just to spend time with the infamous Billy Bigelow; despite being warned of his sketchy past.
As I was watching the play I’ll admit that I was furious with both Billy and Julie, but especially Julie. I just couldn’t understand what she saw in Billy and why she would even stay with him. She loses her job over him, which was mistake number 1. She had barely known him for 2 months before they run off and get married mistake number 2. And you will learn about mistake number 3 when you go and see the play. As the story progresses, my disdain for Billy grows deeper as we later learn that he hasn’t been the picture perfect husband for sweet innocent Julie Jordan.
As I’m watching, I think to myself where is this classic love story? I soon learned that this was not going to be anything like Grease. As the play continues and drama unfolds, I learned that this is not going to be like the Disneyfied love stories many of us have grown accustomed to. In Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, one can argue that this is among the most realistic love stories. There are warm embraces, as well as couples quarrels.
Typically with love stories we may be presented with the quintessential American dream. We envision the white picket fence, children laughing and playing in the yard, and a financially sound environment. However with Carousel, we are presented the dark side of the American dream. In the case of Julie and Billy, there was no home as they both were living under the roof of her cousin. Billy is unemployed struggling to find sensible work while Julie toils away in the mill. And to make matters even worse, Julie will have to face the realities of becoming a single mother.
While the subject matter was quite tragic, it was still very refreshing. Here we are presented with a story, that, unfortunately, may be a little too close to home for some of us. I’m sure we all know of at least one Julie and Billy situation. Maybe not as dramatic, but not every relationship is going to be picture perfect. While I was confused at the juxtaposition of the happy show tunes and the tragedy that unfolded on stage; I think the upbeat numbers were needed to balance out the unfortunate circumstances. The music was incredibly memorable and the powerhouse voices filled the entire Opera house.
Just so the audience can leave with a little bit of hope; Rodgers and Hammerstein finds a way to put Billy Bigelow in our good graces. While he has made awful decisions affecting both himself and his family, there is no denying the love that he has for his family.
I really don’t want to give the play away, as I’m sure you can find the synopsis online. I want you to have a genuine reaction to what you are about to witness on stage. Carousel pleasantly surprised me, and I think we can all take something away from it. Reality may not be as beautiful as fairy tales, but therein lies the charm in Carousel. Even amidst tragedy, love can still shine through as evident by the redemption of Billy Bigelow.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is now playing at the Lyric Opera till May 3rd. You don’t want to miss this limited engagement, as it’s more than meets the eye. I now see why Rodgers and Hammerstein’s favorite production is Carousel.