By Janine Sobeck, Dramaturg
When Rodgers and Hammerstein started to adapt the play Liliom into the musical Carousel, one of the first things they did was change the setting. Liliom, written by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, was set in Budapest, but R&H wanted to find a setting that both they — and their American audience — could connect with.
It was Rodgers who first suggested the New England setting. In a 1945 interview with the New York Times, Hammerstein said that once the idea took root:
I began to see an attractive ensemble — sailors, whalers, girls who worked in the mills up the river, clambakes on nearby islands, an amusement park on the seaboard, things people could do in crowds, people who were strong and alive and lusty, people who had always been depicted on the stage as thin-lipped puritans — a label I was anxious to refute … as for the two leading characters, Julie with her courage and inner strength and outward simplicity seemed more indigenous to Maine than to Budapest. Liliom is, of course, an international character, indigenous to nowhere.
Setting the play in a New England coastal village in the 1870s allowed R&H to bring all of these characters to life. The New England coastline, which had built its economy and society out of the sea, was starting to see an influx of new people and ideas with the continuing Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, the men and woman who made their livelihoods out of whaling and fishing saw the landscape of their towns change with the inclusion of large mills. Most of these mills were cotton mills, owned by wealthy men and corporations, and run by girls who were defying tradition by leaving the family farms and working as independent beings. As they integrated into these coastal villages, many took on the local customs and ways of life, creating vibrant and lively societies.
With the characters of Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein were able to capture the many different aspects of a New England coastal society. See how many different members of this society you can spot during the production.