Although I grew up in a household where everyone can sing most of Guys and Dolls and at least two songs by Rogers and Hammerstein, I don’t think I had ever seen Carousel all the way through before last week.
The conversation, when we were in our seats and checking through the programme went something like this:
‘Do we know any of the songs in it?’
‘It’ll be difficult not to join in with You’ll never walk alone.’
‘I thought that was from Show Boat.’
‘No. It’s Carousel. You must be thinking of something else.’
‘Oh. I was sure it was Show Boat.’
‘This one’s got June is Busting out all over.’
‘I thought that was in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.’
‘Well it’s not.’
‘There’s definitely a song about a change in the season.’
‘I’m as corny as Kansas in August?’
‘Not, that’s from South Pacific. The one in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is about Spring, farmyards are busy and something’s in a tizzy.’
‘Mm. So what’s the one in Show Boat?
‘I know. Smoke gets in your eyes.’
‘But that’s nothing like You’ll never walk alone.’
‘Maybe, but they are both really popular in non musical theatre contexts.’
It was probably a relief to the people around us when the show began.
It was lovely to hear the music played by a proper orchestra rather than a pit band, and the cast all had lovely voices especially Eric Greene as Billy Bigelow and Joseph Shovelton as Enoch Snow. The staging too was inspired; making full use of the stage revolve, the carousel was created within minutes from bands of light and a few wooden horses, and the small New England village was suggested by a ragged little shore house. The dancing in the sequence when Billy is watching the daughter he will never know being tormented by the town’s youth is lithe and light.
It was a great production with a lot of verve and imagination with a full house to show for its reputation in Leeds. But when I wrote that I’d never seen the show all the way through before, I think it’s because I’ve seen the beginning several times, thought it was a bit slow and switched over to something else. It’s a curious musical, in that I’ve just read that in one poll it has been voted the best of the 20th century, while I would have said almost the opposite. Usually with a Rogers and Hammerstein show I get the feeling that they have so many song ideas that they cram them in one after another in quick succession whereas in Carousel, I felt as if I was waiting for it all to get going for quite a while.
The production is on at the Lowry in Salford, before moving to the Barbican in London in mid August.