Saturday, June 02, 2018

The melody lingers on

Earlier this week we scored bargain tickets (and good ones!) to the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel," the most-nominated show on Broadway and star-studded too. I was particularly excited to hear Renée Fleming in her post-opera career, though I learned it was also full of stars from Broadway and New York City Ballet, all dancing to vigorous new choreography by NYCB's resident choreographer.

I wish I could say I loved it but I didn't. The production assumes the audience knows the story so well it doesn't need to tell it. Cuts (I learned from reading some reviews afterwards) led to Julie Jordan's character being overshadowed by the story of the troubled man she loves - something which was always part of the story and something this production tries ineffectively to mitigate. The commendably colorblind casting made this even more muddled. And "Miss Fleming" had a cold and vanished after the first act, someone else picking up her part (in the same costume) and the anthem "You'll never walk alone."

And the music, in what all the reviews call the most beautiful score in musicals? Like the stage it seemed crowded and hurried - perhaps intentionally loud and lurid like a carnival (though that might just be Broadway!). The next morning I pored over reviews to try to understand why "Carousel" was so beloved, listening also to a few of the songs from the gritty but lyrical 1994 production (which I saw). While a perennial favorite of theaters large and small and Time's top musical of all time in 2001, I learned that "Carousel" has also always been a "problem musical" because of its celebration of domestic abuse: Billy beats Julie, she accepts it despite warnings from all around her, and somehow both are redeemed by their (her?) love. "I love Carousel," Frank Rich said somewhere, to which Nora Ephron replied "Yes, but you're a boy."

And yet, a few days later, I have to report that the score's gorgeous melodies have been coming back to me one by one, like timed seeds sprouting. In the welter of the production I didn't notice them being sown, but there I was humming not just "If I loved you" but "What's the use of wonderin'" and many others - this morning even "Blow high, blow low"! This amazes me. I grew up with my grandparents' LPs of mid-century musicals but "Carousel" wasn't one of them, so these aren't songs I thought I knew. I didn't particularly enjoy them Wednesday night. But here they are, like old friends. Because I'm a boy?

No comments: