April 10, 2005
MarkBernstein.org
 
Follow me on Twitter

Carousel

The other night, we saw a Harvard student production of Carousel, the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

It's a very strange show, when you come right down to it. I hadn't seen it since high school -- I missed the Broadway revival a couple of years back. In high school, I didn't really appreciate how strangely pessimistic this show is, despite all its sunny tunes. After all, this is a show about abusive relationships and ill-matched marriages, about an unusually intelligent young millworker who marries a wife-beater and her unimaginative, dim pal who marries a nebbish.

Common sense may tell you
That the ending will be sad,
And now's the time to break and run away.
But what's the use of wond'ring
If the ending will be sad?
There's nothing more to say.

(Note the early pomo gesture: as we approach the mid-point of the last act and are wondering how this can possibly end well, the heroine starts to argue that is might not. Carousel famously ends in a realistic muddle; everyone remembers skipping the happy ending liberated music theater, but nobody seems to have much noticed this odd, early reflexive move. Routine today, perhaps, but this is 1945.)