Monday, April 20, 2015

Dark Monday • Carousel

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'Carousel' opened on the Broadway stage on April 19, 1945, seventy years ago yesterday. The show played in the Majestic Theatre, on 44th Street. With music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the musical seemed destined for greatness. It was their second collaboration, following the hugely successful 'Oklahoma!'. The show was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with dances by Agnes De Mille. The great choreographer had previously worked on the original production of 'Oklahoma!'. The set and lighting were designed by the great Jo Mielziner, and the costumes by the fantastic Miles White, who also designed the costumes for 'Oklahoma!'. Carousel starred John Raitt and Jan Clayton (pictured below), both of whom made their Broadway debuts with the production.

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Like much of the history of musical theater, there is plenty of lore about the original production. Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted unknowns for the production, and had only one member of the cast had prior Broadway experience. It was said they 'discovered' John Raitt while auditioning singers for the touring company of 'Oklahoma', and instantly knew he was perfect for 'Carousel' while he was just warming up to give his audition. Jan Clayton, a California resident like Raitt, was discovered by Theresa Helburn, who brought her East to audition for the female lead, which she landed. Together, they made a magical pair. This is John Raitt and Jan Clayton singing "If I Loved You", recorded for television to mark the 10th anniversary of the show.

Christine Johnson played the role of Nettie Fowler, and sang one the most moving and well-known songs from the score. Johnson was an opera singer, already singing regularly with Metropolitan Opera. 'Carousel' was her first, and only, Broadway show. After staying with the original Broadway production for hundreds of performances, she took time off the study in Italy, and returned to join the national touring company. She returned to Broadway to again sing the role of Nettie in the 1949 revival, before returning the Owensboro, Kentucky, where she married and had two children. But she will long be remembered as the woman who gave voice to the show stopping number, "You'll Never Walk Alone".

Returning to some of the great stories of Broadway, many told the tale of Richard Rodgers, who had injured his back prior to opening, and was propped up on a stretcher in the wings, fearful the audience would not respond to the musical. It was also said that Rodgers' daughter, Mary, was in the audience, and made eye contact with a dear friend. That fellow teenagers was Stephen Sondheim, and both had tears in their eyes. The musical certainly left a huge mark on the hearts of many, running for 890 performances, closing on May 24, 1947. The show went on a national tour for two years, before returning to New York in 1949. The show was once again in the Majestic Theatre until it closed. Once month later, the Majestic was filled once again when Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'South Pacific' opened to widespread acclaim.

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