Crying out for hope
By Rodgers and Hammerstein
Savoy Theatre, London
From December 2
We saw the new outing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic during its pre-West End tour. This production stars Lesley Garrett, Jeremiah James and some modern stage projection technology which is truly amazing.
Set on the coast of Maine, it uses wonderful songs to tell the tragic story of Billy Bigelow, a rough diamond fairground barker for the carousel, and his love for the independent and quirky mill girl, Julie Jordan. She shy and him proud, they cannot admit their true feelings for each other but only sing about how it would be ‘If I loved you’.
Sympathy for people
Their poverty is contrasted with the wealth of the church-going mill owner; their brief, troubled marriage compared with that of Julie’s friend Carrie and her moral, sentimental husband Mr. Snow and his ambitions for his own fishing company. A baby is on the way for the Bigelows, but, having lost his job at the carousel, Billy feels he must get money to provide. From there he is led into criminality by the devilish Jigger Craigen and, pursued by the police, commits suicide to escape arrest. Julie is alone with a child on the way and her loveable but feckless husband dead. And with the carousel standing as a symbol of the circle of life we are pointed to the endless repetition of such tragic lives.
It is a scenario which elicits sympathy and the need for grace and hope. In the story, hope comes by way of the misleading and dangerous idea that in the afterlife there is a backdoor to heaven and a second chance to put things right. In some senses it is an eminently moral tale, with its emphases on the need to live right, not be shackled by the past and to tell people you love them and not let ‘golden chances pass you by’.
But there seems to be a great lesson from Rodgers and Hammerstein which the church ought to have learned by now. In their great musical shows there is often a wonderful ‘hymn’ of hope (usually voiced by a mother figure in the story). In The Sound of Music it is ‘Climb every mountain’ (‘til you find your dream); in South Pacific it is ‘Bali Hai’; and in Carousel it is the marvellous anthem ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Rodgers and Hammerstein understood that ordinary men and women need to be given hope for their lives which frequently verge on despair (in a fallen world). Yet in the gospel we have the greatest hope of all to hold out to them — forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. And this hope is not fiction but fact.