Carousel (1945) is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The music is memorable, the dance sequences heartwarming. Too bad the storyline and characters are STUPID.
From my understanding Carousel is one of the first musicals about domestic violence yet a prime example of how horrible Rodgers and Hammerstein are at tackling controversial issues. However its main character, or anti-hero, Billy Bigelow, is the greatest victim because the writers put him into situations where he is doomed to fail because society just works that way.
Their manipulations go straight down to his gender and make his life terrible simply because he’s a guy. Billy is this flirtatious carousel barker that is quite possibly banging his dead boss’s promiscuous wife Mrs. Mullin and sets his sights on millworker Julie Jordan. Billy touches Julie and Mullin kicks her off the carousel. Now we can say that Billy broke the law because back then men weren’t allowed to touch women, and still aren’t really, but it’s safe to say that the catalyst for Mrs. Mullin’s actions is that she is just a jealous bitch. Billy argues with Mrs. Mullin and gets fired. Mullin returns to the story every so often to seduce him back but Billy refuses Mrs. Mullin because he is aware of her sexual intentions and is a “respectable married man” now - that hits his wife. This is where gender problems really take off. Billy marries Julie and stresses out because he’s jobless and can’t support his family. Why they got married then is beyond comprehension. It’s stated throughout that he hit Julie once out of frustration about this and everybody makes a big deal out of it, for good reason.
Men were always breadwinners, so his concern makes sense. Julie reveals to him that she’s pregnant with their kid and at the end of Act 1 he has this soliloquy song thinking about his future child. Once it dawns on him that he could have a daughter he starts to panic again, suggesting the idea that women need men to take care of them. He doesn’t seem to have any other skill besides his barker job with the ONE carousal in the area, so what else is he supposed to do? Rob someone?
That’s exactly what he and his sailor pal Jigger Craigin decide to do.
Thanks writers. That’s one point against you.
Another reason why it’s evident that these writers hate Billy so much is that Billy Bigelow is a New Yorker with attitude. They throw Billy’s New Yorker personality into a Maine population where everyone else is singing and dancing about how “June is bustin’ out all over.” Chances are if this musical were set in New York Billy wouldn’t stand out so much as a bad guy but rather blend in more with other people like him. Billy comes across as a jerk because the writers decided to make him represent the aggressive New York stereotype in a setting where everyone else does not.
After an agonizingly long and unnecessary group musical number opens up the second act about what a wonderful clambake they just had, Billy and Jigger try to pull off their heist. It goes wrong and Billy decides that instead of going to jail where he cannot look after his daughter, he stabs himself to death because apparently him DEAD would help her more. He goes to Purgatory and though Billy really doesn’t give a crap the Starkeeper decides to help him gain entrance into Heaven. The key is to get his daughter Louise, who is now fifteen, to accept a star he gives her and then he’s good. So that’s all it took to get into Heaven back then? Billy agrees and returns to Earth as a ghost.
Don’t worry. He screws this up too. He tries to talk to Louise and she freaks out so he slaps her. Julie comes out because she hears her daughter screaming. Then Louise states the most insulting line in the history of insulting musical lines: “Is it possible that when he hit me, it felt like a kiss?”
No. No it is not. That is a terrible lesson. But of course Julie stupidly justifies her daughter’s dumb conclusion by responding “Yes.”
It turns out that the kid has been ostracized because nobody liked her father. Gee, that’s shocking. So Billy shows up at her graduation and whispers encouragement. Oh and Julie accepted the star that Billy left on her front porch, so he’s all clear for Heaven now. Yay.
Writers, Billy did nothing to redeem himself so stop acting like he accomplished something. Not only do the writers set Billy up for disaster, they force him to make stupid decisions because of the stupid scenarios they create. He fails again and again and never fixes anything. The best part is he is not somebody we root for, but yet that is the perceived intention for the character.
But that’s okay. The music is still nice.