Thursday, July 07, 2011


On Sunday evening we went to Ra'anana to see the wonderful American Musical Carousel, put on in English by the Encore! team from Jerusalem. It was a great production and the voices of the main performers were excellent. But, what I found very interesting is that the story of Carousel, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II , was based on a play written in Hungarian by Ferenc Molnar, who had changed his name from Franz Neumann (1878-1952). As happened very often in Europe, Jews had to change their names to become successful. Molnar alias Neumann wrote a play called The Paul Street Boys about two rival gangs of boys in Budapest, that catapulted him to fame and is a Hungarian classic. He was very prolific and also wrote a play in 1909 called Liliom, a bittersweet story of the love of a ne'er- do-well Carousel barker and a young innocent girl (recognize it) that was the basis of Carousel in1945. Molnar escaped to New York before WWII and lived there until the 1950s. Many of his plays were translated into English and found their way onto the silver screen as Hollywood looked for new stories.

Richard Rodgers (who was Jewish) and Oscar Hammerstein (who was not) decided to relocate the action of the play from Hungary to 1870's New England for American audiences. The earlier period allowed the innocence of Julie Jordan and the travelling Carousel to be more believable. Since Moldar was in NYC, Rodgers and Hammerstein invited him to the first rehearsal of the musical. He listened intently and nodded occasionally, and in the end he approved of their translation and modifications. It is perhaps surprising that one of the greatest American musicals has such a bittersweet story and a sad ending, even though with some hope. In fact the story line is much more central European and Jewish than regular American, yet it has found a place in the heart of all Americans.

One word about the male lead in the play, Billy Bigelow, surprisingly played by a Black American named Kendell Pinkney. He had a superb stage presence and sang the difficult solo "My Boy Bill" with verve and gusto. We were not so surprised to see him because he was in the performance of Oklahoma that was put on by Encore! in 2009. One wonders what brings a Black American presumed non-Jew to be in an Israeli production. No doubt he studies in Israel and a program note says that he has written a musical "Jerusalem of Gold" that was premiered at Oberlin College in Ohio (where my daughter studied). It would be interesting to know the rest of the story.


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