Welcome to the World of ‘Carousel’

By Janine Sobeck, Dramaturg

Welcome to Carousel Insights, the section of the Utah Rep webpage that is dedicated to giving you background and insider information about our current production.  My name is Janine Sobeck, and I am the dramaturg on this production. (Don’t know what a dramaturg is? You’re not alone. To help you out, you can read my definition of it here). As dramaturg, I will be the one providing this information, so check back regularly to see updates on the original source, material, the creation process, and the world of Carousel, as well as information that is specific to our unique production. I also love to hear your own insights on the show, so please feel free to leave your responses in the comment section!

To start us off, let’s take a look at where Carousel came from. Many are unaware of the fact that, just like with Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted Carousel from an existing piece of literature.  This time, instead of a novel, they were approached by the Theatre Guild (the same company that produced Oklahoma!) to do an adaptation of a play (more on this later!).  The play Theatre Guild proposed was a Hungarian-language play called Liliom, by Ferenc Molnár

Liliom and Louise from the 1921 Theatre Guild Production

Liliom and Louise from the 1921 Theatre Guild Production

To the modern theater audience, at first glance, this may seem like an obscure title to propose.  However, in this time period (1945), Liliom was one of the darlings of the theater world.  Though its original premiere in Budapest (1909) was a dismal failure, the subsequent Broadway production in 1921 (with the English translation by Bengamin Glazer) garnered a lot of attention. The story of the cocky carnival barker named Liliom, and his love Julie, struck a chord in the American theater, with subsequent radio broadcasts (directed by Orson Welles and starring Helen Hayes) and revivals (the 1940 revival featured Ingrid Bergman and Elia Kazan) increasing its popularity.  For the Theatre Guild, this popular title seemed like the best idea for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second collaboration. It was that fateful offer that sealed Liliom’s place in the theater cannon, because even though the original play gained substantial notoriety in its own right, today it is most famous in the musical version of the tale known as Carousel.