Isn’t it wonderful when, like stardust, a little bit of Kismet falls your way? That’s what happened to me today, when David noticed in the paper that there was a limited engagement of Carousel, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. And lickety-split, he checked on tickets and printed out one for me. And so, I Found myself hopping the train to New York — a totally unexpected twist to my day.
What a thrill! It was an amazing performance! Carousel is just about my favorite musical. And according to Playbill, Richard Rodgers agrees with me: “One of the most frequent questions I am asked is ‘What is your favorite of all your musicals.’ My answer is Carousel. Oscar never wrote more meaningful or more moving lyrics, and to me, my score is more satisfying than any I’ve ever written. But it’s not just the songs; it’s the whole play. Beautifully written, tender without being mawkish, it affects me deeply every time I see it performed.”
I feel the same way. some of the songs are classics: “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” But it’s the way that the lyrics, music, plot, and character development come together seamlessly that makes it so emotionally satisfying. Someone said that Oscar put story before stars and songs and that this is what gives his work such depth. In short, he’s a storyteller, first and foremost — and his lyrics serve the story. As Stephen Sondheim notes:
“People underestimate what [Hammerstein] did in the way of musical theater. He was primarily an experimental writer, and what he was doing was marrying the traditions of opera and American musical comedy, using songs to tell a story that was worth telling. The first real instance of that is Show Boat, which is a watershed show in the history of musical theater, and Oklahoma!, which is innovative in different ways . . . . Now, because of the success of Oklahoma!, and subsequent shows, most musical theater now tells stories through songs. But that was not true prior to 1943, the year of Oklahoma!”
So let’s take a tip from a master lyricist and always remember Oscar’s simple, yet powerful discovery: Just as story is revealed through character, so character is revealed through story. Write on.