Carousel is a musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) that was adapted from Ferenc Molnar's 1909 play Liliom (transplanting the Budapest setting of Molnar's play to a New England fishing village). The original production opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, and ran for 890 performances. The show included the hit musical numbers If I Loved You, June Is Bustin' Out All Over, and You'll Never Walk Alone. Carousel was innovative for its time, being one of the first musicals to contain a tragic plot.
The musical has enjoyed award-winning revivals (particularly the 1994 revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre) and has been adapted as a Cinemascope 55 film in 1956 and as a made-for-television special on videotape in 1967. It is particularly well-regarded among musicals by the theatre community, and Richard Rodgers, in his autobiography Musical Stages, said it was his favorite musical. Time magazine named it the best musical of the 20th century.
Both Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II said Carousel was their favorite collaboration. They broke new ground in musical theater storytelling with their extended music-and-dialog scenes, such as the "bench scene", which features "If I Loved You", and the haunting "Soliloquy" in which Billy imagines his future child. These scenes, especially the former, treat singing like spoken dialog set to music (much as in opera recitative, with the "recitative" singing leading up to the actual song). The final anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" has assumed a life of its own as a funeral and graduation standard. It is also customarily sung by supporters of several soccer clubs, beginning with Liverpool F.C. in the 1960s.
In 1999, Time magazine in its "Best of the Century" list, named Carousel the Best Musical of the 20th century: "They set the standards for the 20th century musical".
Mrs. Mullin, owner of the carousel, arrives and tells Julie never to return to the carousel because Julie let Billy put his arm around her during the ride. Julie's friend, Carrie Pipperidge, and Julie argue with Mrs. Mullin. Billy arrives and initially sides with Mrs. Mullin (who flirts with him outrageously) until he realizes that Mrs. Mullin is just jealous of Julie, at which point he switches sides and is fired from his job. Carrie presses Julie for information about the carousel ride with Billy, but Julie is reticent about the encounter ("You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan"). Eventually satisfied, Carrie confides that she has a beau of her own: local fisherman Enoch Snow ("Mister Snow"). Billy returns and makes it clear that only Julie should stay with him. Carrie leaves after revealing that, if they stay out, they will lose their jobs at the mill. Mr. Bascombe, owner of the mill, and a policeman appear and warn Julie that Billy has taken money from other women. Bascombe offers to take Julie home so she can keep her job, but she refuses and gets fired, too. She and Billy, now alone, can talk freely, but neither can quite confess the growing attraction they feel for each other ("If I Loved You").
A month passes. At a spa owned by Julie's cousin, Nettie Fowler, sailors appear with clams for the evening's clambake. They are noisy, which spurs Carrie and the other female townfolk to jeer at them (this section is sung as a sort of recitative, rather than spoken). Nettie arrives and, spotting the sexual tension, leads them all in celebrating love and spring. An elaborate dance ensues ("June Is Bustin' Out All Over"). The men leave as Julie, now married to Billy, arrives. (He and his whaler friend Jigger have been missing all night.) Nettie tells Carrie to comfort Julie.
To divert the other girls from their eavesdropping, Nettie then unsuccessfully encourages the girls to clean up. Julie confides in Carrie that Billy, now unemployed and living with Julie at Nettie's, is unhappy over the loss of his job and, out of frustration, has slapped Julie. Carrie also has happier news — she and Enoch are to be married. At this, the girls who have so far been feigning work, rush over, congratulate Carrie, and imagine the wedding day (reprise: "Mister Snow"). Enoch has arrived and startles the girls by joining them in song. The girls leave Julie, Carrie, and Enoch alone.
Carrie tries to converse with Julie and Enoch, but Julie's unhappiness overcomes her: she bursts into tears in Enoch's arms. As she pulls herself together, Billy arrives with Jigger. He is openly rude to Enoch and then Julie, and he soon leaves along with Jigger, followed by a distraught Julie. Left alone, Carrie and Enoch extol the virtues of a life plan. Enoch reveals how he expects both to become rich selling herring and to have a large family with Carrie ("When The Children Are Asleep").
Meanwhile, Billy, Jigger, and other whalers sing of life on the sea ("Blow High, Blow Low"). The singing segues into a dance, with the local girls flirting with the whalers. Jigger tries to recruit Billy to help with a robbery, but Billy declines when Jigger tells him that the victim - Julie's former boss Mr. Bascombe - might have to be killed. Mrs. Mullin arrives and tries to tempt Billy back to the carousel (and to her), and he reveals he is unhappy with Julie. Julie arrives. There is almost an argument, but Mrs. Mullin leaves to go to the bank. Julie tells Billy of her pregnancy and they go inside. Mrs. Mullin and Jigger return and spar until Billy comes back out and tells Mrs. Mullin to leave. Overwhelmed with happiness by the news, and determined to provide financially for his future child, Billy decides to be Jigger's accomplice after all ("Soliloquy").
Act 1 ends with the whole town leaving for the clambake. Billy, who previously shunned the idea of going to the clambake, now realizes it is integral to his and Jigger's alibi: he decides to go too. Julie is delighted.
Jigger and Billy gamble, using cards. At stake are their shares of the anticipated robbery spoils. Billy loses his share of the expected proceeds: his participation is now pointless. Unbeknownst to Billy and Jigger, Mr. Bascombe, the intended robbery victim, has already deposited the money he was expected to be carrying. He instead carries a gun. The robbery fails: Bascombe pulls his gun and starts shooting. Jigger escapes unharmed, but the police corner Billy. Billy stabs himself with his knife and dies; Julie arrives just in time for him to say his last words to her.
Carrie tells Julie that Billy's death is not necessarily a bad thing. Enoch gets back together with Carrie and supports this view. Mrs. Mullin arrives, much to the disgust of the townfolk, but Julie lets her view the body. Mrs. Mullin does so, then runs off weeping. Everyone leaves except Julie, and Nettie, who comforts Julie ("You'll Never Walk Alone").
Billy arrives at heaven's gate. There, a pair of blunt-spoken angels explain that, to enter, he must alleviate the distress he caused. Billy refuses to see a simple magistrate in Heaven: he demands to be taken directly to God to be judged ("The Highest Judge Of All"). The Starkeeper sends him back to earth. Stealing a star on the way down, he returns fifteen years after his suicide. His daughter, Louise, is now an angry and rebellious teen, mocked by Mr. Snow's snobbish and wealthy children because her father was a thief (instrumental: "Louise's Ballet").
Enoch and his children stop by Julie's house to pick up Carrie on the way to the graduation, and Enoch's son (Enoch Jr.) waits behind to talk to Louise. Louise reveals that she plans to run away from home with a carnival troupe she met, but when Enoch Jr. proposes, she decides to stay. He reveals, however, that his father would not think Louise an appropriate match. Insulted, Louise orders him to leave and bursts into tears.
Billy, able to make himself visible or invisible at will, reveals himself to Louise; he pretends to be a friend of her father. Trying to cheer her up, he offers her a small gift — the star he stole from Heaven. She refuses it and, frustrated, he slaps her. As he makes himself invisible, Louise tells Julie what has happened. She reveals that the slap miraculously felt like a kiss, not a blow. Without allowing her to actually see him, Billy finally confesses his love to Julie (reprise: "If I Loved You"). Having thus made amends, he invisibly attends Louise's high-school graduation. The whole town shuns her and refuses to applaud her. Dr. Seldon, who strangely resembles the Starkeeper, tells the graduating class not to rely on their parents' success (advice directed at Enoch Jr.) or be held back by their parents' mistakes (directed at Louise). Seldon then leads everyone in a final chorus (reprise: "You'll Never Walk Alone"). Billy, still invisible, whispers to Louise, telling her to have confidence in herself. His silent words enter her mind and, inspired, she -- along with Julie -- joins the singing. This good deed redeems Billy, who wins entry into Heaven.
Domestic violence is another significant and controversial theme in the play. Billy's physical abuse of Julie is condemned by some of the characters, but accepted by Julie herself, who endures his slaps because she loves him and understands his emotional pain.
The 1959 musical Little Mary Sunshine, which lampoons older operettas and musicals, has a song -- "Such a Merry Party" -- that parodies "A Real Nice Clambake."