Of the eight musicals he created with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, composer Richard Rodgers said that Carousel was his favorite. (And he didn’t even live long enough to know that its most memorable tune would become one of the sporting world’s greatest anthems.) Often eclipsed by splashier R&H productions like Oklahoma! and South Pacific, the musical about Julie Jordan, a naïve millworker in 1870s Maine, and Billy Bigelow, a cocky carnival barker who’s just a few lobsters shy of a clambake, usually earns bonus points from critics for its deeper emotional plumbing and tighter melding of music and text.
Carousel returns to the 5th Avenue Theatre stage this month — the first time since 1996 — in a local coproduction of the 5th Avenue Theatre and Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater. Bill Berry, producing artistic director at the 5th Avenue, directs; Donald Byrd, artistic director at Spectrum, choreographs. Seattle audience favorites Laura Griffith and Brandon O’Neill star as Julie and Billy.
Exploring bumpy topics such as domestic abuse and suicide, Carousel skews darker than other models of the American musical genre. It was adapted in 1945 from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, about a man who returns from the hereafter with a chance at redemption. In Carousel, however, hummable tunes like “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — the rousing signature song of the Liverpool Football Club for the past half-century — offer a comforting reminder that, as with all Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, hope is surely waiting in the wings.
February 5–March 1. Prices vary. The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; 206.625.1900; 5thavenue.org.