Posts Tagged ‘Carousel’

Carousel (1956)

April 3, 2019

Rodgers and Hammerstein are obviously legends in the genre of musicals. Even people who know very little about musicals would probably recognize that combination of names. I actually had a long history in working in theater but not as much experience with musicals. I worked on musicals during high school, designing the lights for several of them. When I went to college, it was a Meisner-based conservatory which did not focus on musicals, it focused only on acting. In fact, the first musicals I actually worked on professionally were a handful of musicals done for a Girls Jewish Summer Camp as a summer job during college. Then there were two original shows done with a group called Wombworks (my first professional writing credit). Finally, I worked on five different children’s musicals up in New Jersey and one horrible show called Always Patsy Cline. And yet, I did love musicals. I was taken to musicals from a young age, either at the Mechanic Theater in my hometown of Baltimore or going on trips to Broadway. I even saw Oliver! in London’s West End when I was thirteen.

But back to Rodgers and Hammerstein, specifically. The first show that I became aware of was Oklahoma! because I was just about to enter high school and I ended up attending a performance, standing room only. I was standing against the wall, enjoying the lively music when suddenly a character drew a gun and fired it. Because of where I was standing, he was pointing it directly at me and I think the actor and I scared the crap out of each other. I once performed in a church variety show, and the show was bookended by The King and I songs “Shall We Dance?” and “Getting to Know You”, the last being a song that I first heard when I saw Addams Family Values. I also reviewed State Fair here on this blog in the summer of 2016 and I remember enjoying it even though there’s not much meat to it. Sadly, I have not seen a lot of their other musicals as my high school focused more on Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter instead (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Obviously, the centerpiece of a movie like this is the music. As mentioned, all of the music is by Rodgers and Hammerstein and is therefore solid all the way through. It starts with a great waltz composed by Rodgers and just keeps going from there. Part of that good music is Shirley Jones who is basically the lead of the movie (or at least she sings the most songs). She has such a down to Earth beauty inside and out and also an inner strength. She also has a great singing voice, of course. Gordon McRae is the other star of the show. He is the smooth-talking, rough around the edges love interest. He has that sort of “hep cat” performance that reminds me of the Jets in West Side Story. The music and acting are all really good and it is hard to believe that this was not a hit and remembered as a classic. Even Richard Rodgers admitted that the musical did not really produce the number of hits their other musicals did. I mean, as I have already said, there is no opening song which is a big staple of musicals. The biggest hit is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which is the only song that I have heard elsewhere mostly from Jerry Lewis.

The story might also be a reason that the movie was not as big of a hit. Most Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are pretty straightforward character pieces with catchy hit songs. This musical has supernatural and fantasy elements that definitely set it apart from a lot of their catalog. People probably like The King and I and Oklahoma because they want to see themselves in those situations. Mostly comical situations where life is fine and nothing is too threatening. In this movie, there is a strain of sadness throughout the whole thing and there are wistful fantasy elements. In fact, now that I think of it, this movie kind of reminds me of It’s a Wonderful Life. There is some messing around with time and life and most of the movie is just a story about life. While it is not a happy story, it is a hopeful story and I liked that. The story is mostly told in flashbacks which are an interesting way to go about it.

Overall, I liked this movie well enough. The music is mostly slow songs which are beautiful but not exactly my cup of tea. Slow songs mostly bore me and make me feel sad regardless of whether the subject matter is happy or not. There are some upbeat tunes but they feel like they are few and far between. Still, the movie is colorful and there are plenty of smiles. I can obviously see the appeal of the movie and I am glad I watched it. I wonder if it had been more famous if they cast Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland as they originally wanted to. In fact, the rumor was that Sinatra quit the production because Ava Gardner told him that if he did not fly to her in Africa, she would sleep with Clark Gable.

(Written on 3/31/19)


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