Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is coming back to Broadway.
The 2017-2018 Broadway Season will include a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical Carousel. The New York Times has reported that Director Jack O’Brien (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) will helm the production produced by Scott Rudin and Roy Furman. Leading the cast will be Jessie Mueller as Julie Jordan, Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow, and Renee Fleming as Nettie Fowler. Justin Peck will provide the choreography.
Mueller, fresh out of the musical Waitress, won a Tony Award for playing Carol King in the musical Beautiful, appeared as Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and she portrayed Carrie Pipperidge in a concert version of Carousel with The New York Philharmonic. Henry, most recently seen as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, also appeared on Broadway in Shuffle Along, Violet and The Scottsboro Boys. Fleming last appeared on Broadway in the 2014 comedic play Living for Love, and is known for her battery of work in the world of opera.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel was first produced on Broadway in 1945 by The Theatre Guild, at the Majestic Theatre. The production starred John Raitt and Jan Clayton, was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and featured groundbreaking choreography by Agnes de Mille. Boasting one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most complex and beloved scores, songs such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “The Carousel Waltz”, “If I Loved You”, “Soliloquy” and “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?” have become mainstays of the Broadway Songbook.
Carousel is based on the popular 1909 play Liliom by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar. Rodgers and Hammerstein took some liberties when adapting the play for the musical stage, moving the story from Budapest to a seaside, New England village in 1873. Carousel tells the troubled tale of Julie Jordan (Mueller), a spunky millworker who encounters the surly Billy Bigelow (Henry), a carousel barker at a local carnival. The two quickly fall in love and wed, but their marriage is plagued with difficulties. Billy loses his job on the carousel and he drinks, and the two must move-in with Julie’s cousin Nettie (Fleming). Billy beats Julie, but she remains stubbornly devoted to her husband. When she tells him that she is pregnant, the ne’er-do-well wakes up to his responsibilities. To secure funds for his impending child, Billy gets wrapped up in a robbery scheme that goes wrong. He dies by his own knife, but he will not be admitted into heaven until he goes back to earth and corrects the mistakes he has made.
Carousel was last revived on Broadway in 1994 by Lincoln Center Theatre, a production that crossed the Atlantic from London’s Royal National Theatre. The New York production was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who won a Tony Award for his efforts, and the production itself won for Best Revival. It is also remembered as the show that brought about Audra McDonald’s first of many Tony wins (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) as Carrie Pipperidge.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals and maintains a theatre and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.
Photos left to right: Jessie Mueller in Waitress, Credit: Joan Marcus. Joshua Henry in Hamilton, Credit: Joan Marcus. Renee Fleming in Living on Love, Credit: Joan Marcus.