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I love Carousel. I love the songs, the staging, the lyrics. I love Rogers, I love Hammerstein. I also love holding the story in contempt.
Carousel (1956) bubbled up on my streaming list last evening, 2017 01 12 . I’ve been enjoying old musicals recently even more than I enjoyed them when they were current, so I wasn’t too surprised to be very moved by Carousel: even by the trumped-up dummy cosmo-theology. Billy Bigham, a lout of a protagonist, a seducer of bubble-bosomed virgins as well as a gigolo to old pleasure-boat whores, a wife beater with a chip on his shoulder big enough to guarantee unemployability except as a gigolo, is spitting on and polishing Christmas-ornament-size tinfoil stars in the kind of firmament easily evoked on stage. The firmament has a hierarchy, the local boss is the star keeper. I noticed in the credits that the script was penned by the Ephrons, a family successful in mapping the most audience-willing religion. They’re Jews, of great talent, and spin a cosmology that simple-minded Christians will swallow as well as Jews, and plenty of Muslims, if not perhaps Buddhists too. (My favorite alternate dance partner’s favorite song is The Keeper of the Stars.) Carousel inhabits that Hollywood heaven.
Billy throws a star. It cascades into Richard Rogers’ Carousel Waltz! Wonderful: I’m ready to weep: it’s my Hollywood heaven too!
Shirley Jones is fixed on Billy. She ignores all warnings. She’s about to get knocked up as well as knocked down. Billy falls on his knife during a robbery. The star keeper tricks him into going back to the earth of living humans where he gives a Hollywood ornament star to his daughter, now aged fifteen. So, the woman, then girl, he’s seduced (of course she’s really seduced herself) lives in a nice white wooden coastal Maine house with her daughter just about to graduate from high school. (Age fifteen? How much information is in that fact?) (So, Billy’s abandoned her, but something has fixed her up pretty nice: who, the star-keeper?)
Jan and I adore Cole Porter. Carousel is Rogers and Hammerstein. We love Learner and Lowe too. I’m especially fond of Richard Rogers, fellow Columbia alumni, and have been since a musical he composed and staged as an undergraduate was featured at my twentieth reunion (his fiftieth or so).
My beloved Jan got kindled by my enthusiasm. She wanted to see it, so we watched it last night. If I loved the show, the staging, the songs when I was alone, I loved it all twice as much with her. And she echoed my sarcasms about the rubbish morality to a tee.
This time through I paid close attention to the cast. Jacques d’Amboise dances a great carousel ballet with the puberty-radiating daughter. She’s already danced her muff into the face of every boy on the beach.
The Rogers’ songs are fabulous and work however ridiculous the premise: When you walk through a storm hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark. This is presented as a Sampler: the wordiest sampler I’ve ever heard. Is this morality sustainable? Is walking with your head high really the safest behavior in a storm?
Never mind. The plethora of great bullshit songs gives screen space to a string of marvelous bench singers: Cousin Netty for example: Jeez, what a contralto. Mr. Snow has already shone a couple of times.
For decades I ride the composer and ignore the wordsmith; but here I’m all over worshipping Oscar Hammerstein II as well.
If I Loved You is the star. The stupid story, the offensive morality, the cast blend into as good a piece of stagecraft as I can recall: aria mixes seamlessly with recitative, the female and male elements perfectly balanced. Bravo.
Gordon MacRae’s voice is almost as big as his rib cage. Whew. Shirley Jones’ breasts cantilever from her chest like velcroed billiard balls, sticking as straight out as anything perfectl round can, they’re right in Billy’s face and the audience’s face no matter how the scene positions her. (Funny contrast to the canon-boobed carousel owner.)
But: the exploited female landscape may have washed in 1956 but it looks just ridiculous in 2017. Billy goes out of his way to lose his job as the carousel gigolo. He and Julie sponge on her cousin She serves him his dinner as a servant, his jailbird friend steals half the food. The carousel’s Mrs. Mullin visits Billy, Julie stays out of the say, stiff and correct, and as yielding as a proper servant. Mrs. Mullin’s double-cannon chest nearly keelhauls the Maine coast.
Billy should have been put in the stocks, in Maine or New York or Salem. But the silly girl deserves every abuse.
That’s maybe what I like best about this stellar show: the politics, the economic and social ecology is simply preposterous.
And boy have I had a Richard Rogers ear worm for the past couple of days.
Oh: Billy gets a day’s leave from his star polishing, he gets to see his fifteen year old daughter graduate from school: age fifteen?! Doesn’t that scream for comment? That attempted robbery / murder felon hadn’t even known what gender Louise was! Why is the star keeper so fawning on him? bending all the rules? Actually, it’s perfect kleptocrat morality: God favors the sinners, cheats at every chance. Favor is for the land grabbers, the genocides.
2017 01 15 Rogers ear worm for days now. Shirley Jones is amazing with her pert bosom, her white socks, her neat shoes, her female fanny, her preposterous innocence.
I’m also very fond of some of the secondary cast: Cousin Netty; Carrie, Mr. Snow. Mr. Snow is the good husband to Billy’s bad husband: but we’re supposed to like Billy and take Snow for granted. Then they give us a song to despise Snow by: No body likes a man who thinks he’s good. Well, compared to Billy, Mr. Snow is good. Anybody is good.
2017 01 16 More days slide by and I’ve still got the Carousel ear worm. Ridiculous story but dlightfully so. Julie sings “He’s your fella, and you love him: there’s nothing more to say.” Wait a minute, girls and boys, Julie is the last knocked up punching bag of a slave wife you should listen to: for advice or anything. Carrie is no prize either. But the girls are uniform saints compared to Billy and Jigger.
Kudos to Oscar Hammerstein for fobbing this behavior onto us as a favor. I recently watched a doc on women in prison, in Tennessee. I didn’t see one inmate as adorable as Shirley Jones: or Carrie, or Cousin Nettie. Or Mrs. Mullin. But I recognized the inmates behavior as indicating comparable intelligence: with a major difference: the female cast of Carousel is unrelentingly heterosexual, fertile, headed for motherhood (and abuse, and abandonment …) The convicts are aggressively lesbian: vengeful, vindictive: threatened to tear each other’s face off if one fucks outside the bond.
2017 01 19 Ear worm is still monopolizing my ear! If I Loved You!, I do love you, Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein, Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones.
Cole Porter balanced his homosexuality in a vindictively hetero- world; my bet is that Rogers was so thoroughly hetero- he didn’t need to pretend.
I mix actor’s names and character names. This is not an academic paper: It’s pk winging.
2017 01 27 Julie sings “What’s the use of wondering / If it’s bad or it it’s good / He’s your fella And you love him / And all the rest is talk.” Good, bad … right wrong …” Notice how anti-Christian, anti-orthodox this question is. Jews and Christians aren’t supposed to wonder about such things: the religion provides the answers, there’s no wondering: wondering is blasphemy! There’s no “if” in authoritarian religions. Philosophers have a series of “if”s; not rabbis, not priests.
But Julie is a rebel from the first moment we see her fixed on Billy. God is not uppermost in her thoughts. That’s not just anti-God, it’s anti-Civilization. No, no: the raw female must be tethered, tamed, broken.
Trying to find authoritative lyrics for the Wondering song I discover that Oscar Hammerstein 2 wrote the lyrics first, then Rogers wrote the music. Glad to know it. What a team.
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