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ClassicsOnline Home » RODGERS: Carousel (Original Broadway Cast) (1945) / Allegro (Original Broadway Cast) (1947)
Shortly after the opening of Oklahoma!,
Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn phoned
Richard Rodgers with a piece of advice.
‘Oklahoma! is such a wonderful show. You
know what you should do next? Shoot yourself.’
Beneath the typical Goldwyn tactlessness,
there was a germ of truth. Oklahoma! had
become the kind of smash hit never seen before
in the musical theatre. How could Rodgers and
Hammerstein possibly follow it?
The answer was simple: they wouldn’t
follow it. Their next two works for the stage
were radically varied in style and created a
distinctive pair of shows.
Carousel is arguably one of the greatest of
all American musicals, and Allegro, while a
profoundly flawed piece, contained theatrical
elements that would come to fruition decades
later in shows like Cabaret,Company and
The actual idea for Carousel originated with
The Theatre Guild, the producing organization
who had been saved from financial insolvency
by the success of Oklahoma! Theresa Helburn
and Lawrence Langner, the heads of the Guild,
met once a week with Rodgers and Hammerstein
for a lunch where they discussed issues of casting,
production etc related to their current hit.
About eight months after Oklahoma! had
opened, Helburn asked Rodgers and Hammerstein
if they would be interested in turning
Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom, a show they had first
produced in 1921, into their next project.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s immediate
reaction was negative. They had seen the recent
1940 revival starring Burgess Meredith and Ingrid
Bergman in the story of an ill-starred Hungarian
carnival barker with a tragic life. They couldn’t
visualize it as a musical, both because of its drab
setting and its relentlessly downbeat story.
But Helburn persisted and suggested they
move it to New Orleans. Hammerstein resisted,
not wanting to create ersatz Cajun dialogue, but
he started to investigate the story more
It was the realization he could turn Liliom’s
soliloquy where he learns his wife is pregnant
and wonders what kind of a father he’ll make
into a substantial musical theatre aria that made
Hammerstein change his mind about the project.
And when Rodgers suggested shifting the
locale to a New England fishing village,
everything seemed to fall into place. The show
was now set on the coast on Maine in 1873 and
Liliom became Billy Bigelow, although his
profession as a carnival barker remained the
same. The central attraction of his carnival, a
carousel, gave the musical its new title.
Anxious to duplicate the triumph they had
known with Oklahoma!,The Theatre Guild
assembled as many of the same creative
personnel as possible. Director Rouben
Mamoulian and choreographer Agnes De Mille
headed the list, although the two of them had
cordially detested each other working on the
earlier show and had to both vow to be on their
best behavior this time around.
Miles White remained on as Costume
Designer, but Jo Mielziner replaced Lemuel Ayers
as set and lighting designer.
During rehearsals, the atmosphere was
joyous and everyone thought they were assured
of a hit when Molnar himself watched a final
run-through in New York and loved it, even the
new upbeat ending that Hammerstein had
added to replace his original tragic one.
But when the show opened in New Haven
on 22 March 1945, it was generally agreed to be
a disappointment. The second act, which deals
with Billy’s journey to the ‘other side’ after his
death proved to be particularly hard for the
audience to take.
Instead of resting on their laurels, Rodgers &
Hammerstein worked as hard as if they had
never had a hit with Oklahoma! They
restructured the entire second act overnight.
The major change involved turning the dour
characters of ‘Mr and Mrs God’ (played as a
minister and his wife) into the more benevolent
figure of The Starkeeper. Ballets and songs were
cut as well, and when it opened in Boston the
next week, reviews were better but still not raves.
The night before the New York opening,
after an unhappy dress rehearsal, Rodgers and
Hammerstein contemplated the possibility of
failure and decided that it didn’t matter. ‘We
loved what we had written’, said Hammerstein,
‘and that was what was important to us’.
The opening night response on 19 April was
wildly enthusiastic and although some of the
critics spent their time cataloguing the reasons
that ‘this was no Oklahoma!’, the majority
agreed with John Chapman of the New York.
Daily News that it was ‘one of the finest musical
plays I have ever seen’.
Ultimately, Carousel only ran 890
performances, as opposed to the 2,248 racked
up by Oklahoma!, but time has proven it to be
an equally enduring work. It is constantly being
produced around the world and the brilliant
revisionist production by Nicholas Hytner for
the Royal National Theatre in 1992 (transferred
to Broadway in 1994) allowed a whole new
generation to sample its power.
This recording features the original cast,
most notably John Raitt, who was only 28 when
he shot to stardom as Billy Bigelow. He
frequently played the role throughout his 60
year career, dying in February of 2005.
Jan Clayton, his romantic lead, Julie Jordan,
only returned to Broadway twice after her
debut, spending her time in films and on TV,
most notably as the original Mother on the
popular Lassie television series.
With two hits under their belt, Rodgers and
Hammerstein felt they could try something even
more radically different.
Hammerstein had tired of adaptations and
wanted to create an original musical on a
theme which would haunt him all of his life: the
struggle between idealism and success. In
Hammerstein’s view, the city was the source of
all corruption and it was only in a small town
setting that truth and honesty could flourish.
A cynic might observe that Hammerstein had
spent all of his life in the big city, except for his
weekend home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania,
but his passion for the topic was heartfelt.
He created a story about one Joseph Taylor,
Jr. He was the son of a beloved rural doctor who
planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, only
to succumb to the temptations of urban life.
The theme may not have been all that
original, but what distinguished Allegro was the
way it was structured. Hammerstein saw it
moving with a fluidity which we now take for
granted, but was totally unknown to the
musical theatre at the time.
He treated time and space with a freedom
that was breathtaking,moving where his story
took him. A Chorus of observers, taken from
the classical Greek theatre, commented on the
action, stepping in or out of it as the author
Rodgers responded to his partner’s work
with a score that is difficult to grasp from its
original recording. All we hear are the themes
and leitmotifs that Rodgers was to weave
continuously throughout the piece, but we
don’t get a sense of how they were used, often
to great theatrical effect.
Judged strictly as a collection of songs,
Allegro is not one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s
strongest works. There are charming ballads
like A Fellow Needs A Girl and So Far as well
as killer character comedy numbers such as
The Gentlemen Is A Dope, but a lot of the
rest lacks the ‘punch’ audiences had come to
expect from this songwriting team.
It’s little wonder that it met with bewilderment
on the road (where Hammerstein had to
take over the direction from Agnes De Mille) as
well as on Broadway (where the word ‘disappointment’
occurred in many of the reviews).
The initial run of the show was only 315
performances and it has seldom been revived.
This recording features the original cast (except
for understudy Robert Reeves, subbing for John
Conte in the role of Charlie), who were all
workmanlike performers of the period. Unlike
the first two Rodgers and Hammerstein shows
which helped to make the likes of Alfred Drake,
Celeste Holm, John Raitt and Jan Clayton into
stars, the only Allegro cast member to break
through later was the saucy Lisa Kirk.
In fact, her rendition of The Gentleman Is
a Dope could be taken as a warm-up for her
more famous turn in Kiss Me Kate, where she
introduced “Always True To You In My Fashion”.
Carousel and Allegro are two very different
shows that serve as a fine illustration of one of
Hammerstein’s most quoted comments about
how he and Rodgers worked: ‘We only have
one formula:we don’t have a formula’.
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RODGERS: Carousel (Original Broadway Cast) (1945) ...