22 June 1999 | LBX Dude
This version does not do justice to a great musical
I have had the relatively rare privilege of performing "Carousel" on stage, uncut, and with a full orchestra. The original "Carousel" that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for the stage is practically an opera, employing extended musical scenes that cover great stretches of plot and character by alternating music and dialogue. When one sees the "Carousel" on stage (with good voices and the original orchestrations), one begins to understand why this is considered one of the greatest musicals ever written.
"Carousel" on film is not nearly as overwhelming. The story is still there, as are the songs, for the most part. But they are just songs in the movie, scenes distilled to the bare bones of the melody on which the original sequence was based. You don't get the feeling, after hearing them sung, that you have learned anything new about the characters (excepting, of course, Billy Bigelow's "Soliloquy" which is left entirely intact).
For example, the "If I Loved You" bench scene between Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones) and Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) lasts almost fifteen minutes once the music starts. What the characters don't tell us about themselves, the music does, throwing melodies left and right until it finally culminates in the release of the famous love song. The scene has built up to this moment until it becomes the only way that Julie can tell Billy that she loves him. In the movie, however, it is all talk until Julie starts singing "If I Loved You". The song seems to come much more out of left field and does not seem nearly as satisfying. Billy repeats the song and the scene ends. As a result, their falling in love with each other doesn't make much sense because the scene really hasn't built up to it.
Several songs which delineate the supporting characters are either severely truncated (such as the musical/character sequence between Carrie Pipperidge (Barbara Ruick) and Enoch Snow (Robert Rounseville)) or cut entirely (such as "Blow High, Blow Low" which could have been a choreographer's dream). As for the choreography itself, surely "June is Bustin' Out All Over" could have been staged with a little more imagination instead of confining itself to the roof and deck of Nettie Fowler's spa. And it does feel confined. This is a song about abandoning the human spirit to the glories of the summer season, a feeling that covers much more territory than just a dining patio.
I do like the casting in the film, although I believe that they were badly underdirected. Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones seem a little lost here. Their talent is not in question as evidenced by their stellar performances in the movie version of "Oklahoma!". Clearly this movie, which had the potential to be a cinema classic, was helmed by someone who didn't understand the genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein. In other words, don't try to fix what ain't broke.