“Carousel,” the second musical created by the legendary Rogers & Hammerstein, is noted today for two major things. One – it’s the show from which we gained the songs “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” sometimes alternately known as “When You Walk Through a Storm,” a song without which funerals, church services, graduations, and high school music recitals would have been a very different experience over the last 70 years. The SECOND Thing “Carousel” is usually noted for is, well, the plot of the 1945 musical is kinda weird and sort of unsettling, But Hey, at least it’s got that ‘Storm’ song.
And didn’t Elvis have a huge hit with that song?
Yes, he did.
In truth, “Carousel,” a huge hit when it first spun onto Broadway with John Raitt and Jan Clayton in the leads, has a LOT of great songs, some of which you might even have heard before. “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” for what it’s worth, has been bustin‘ into movies, Bugs
Bunny cartoons, and major league baseball commercials ever since it first hit the stage. Then there’s, “If You Loved Me,” covered on record albums hundreds of times by everyone from Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como to Art Garfunkel, Chad & Jeremy and Sammy Davis Jr.
And of course, though it has no lyrics and almost no one knows its name, this piece of music, “The Carousel Waltz,” is one of the most famous pieces of circus music ever written, gracing zillions of music boxes for seven decades.
Less famous, but worth noting is “Real Nice Clambake,” which gave us the indelible lyric, “This was a real nice clambake/we’re mighty glad we came/the vittles we et/were good, you bet/the company was the same.”
Man, that’s poetry.
Actually, all kidding aside, that IS poetry.
Rogers & Hammerstein’s commitment to capturing the vernacular of their characters was unheard of on the Broadway musical stage before R&H arrived with “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” “The King & I,” and “Carousel.”
Oh, by the way, the reason I’m talking about it is that Spreckels Performing Arts Center is currently presenting a delightfully stripped down production of “Carousel,” putting the music front and center along with the orchestra, which is right there on stage with musical director Janis Wilson. Billed as a staged concert, it’s more of a fully staged musical with minimal sets, and an orchestra you can actually look at during the show if you want to.
But with gorgeous costumes, snappy choreography, and some truly magnificent singers and actors, you’ll soon stop noticing the musicians and be pulled into the story.
The truth is, “Carousel” DOES have a kind of a weird, conspicuously dated story, in which the residents of a turn of the century New England mill town deal with everyday problems: love, poverty, death, spousal abuse, class divisions, what to do when you’ve died with unfinished business, and timeless issue of finding a suitable rhyme to the word ‘vittles.’ The music is lovely, and it weaves in and out of the dialogue like a river along a gentle mountainside.
Directed with fondness and a staunch refusal to ‘fix’ any of the stories outdated ideas, this “Carousel” but putting focus on it’s most notable attribute, the music, is as pleasant and laidback as a lazy ride on a merry-go-round – or a summertime clambake amongst friends.
“Carousel” runs through March first at Spreckels Performing Arts Center – spreckelsonline.com