When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II agreed to adapt Ferenc Molnar's tragic play Liliom into a musical in 1945, they were concerned that the story was too pessimistic, and they took steps to lighten it, particularly by fiddling with the ending. Nevertheless, the resulting show Carousel was thought to be unusually dark for a musical, and though it ran 890 performances in its original production, it was not as successful as several other Rodgers and Hammerstein shows and attracted relatively few revivals over the years. But in 1992, director Nicholas Hytner, under the auspices of Britain's Royal National Theatre, came up with an acclaimed production that emphasized the very elements Rodgers and Hammerstein had tried to soften. Hytner gave Carousel a modern interpretation that kept its rough edges intact and played up its drama. After an initial run at the Royal National Theatre that began on December 10, 1992, the show transferred to the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End on September 10, 1993. This cast album clearly showcases Hytner's approach. His actors speak and sing emphatically in a way more reminiscent of the method acting style popular in the nonmusical theater of the 1940s than of the musical stage of the period, and Michael Hayden, playing the male lead Billy Bigelow, suggests Marlon Brando more than he does John Raitt, who originated the role on Broadway. The actors have the occasional uncertain moment with their American accents, but that doesn't keep this from being a fresh, unusually earthy version of a show that always had higher quotients of lust and violence than other musicals of its day. Recordings of Carousel seem to get longer and longer, and this one, at 79 and one-half minutes, is about as long as a single CD can get. The big addition is the 12-minute "Ballet" near the end, a piece of music not previously recorded. This Carousel album will not make fans forget the original Broadway cast recording, but it definitely marks a re-imagining of an old warhorse for a new era.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann