When I was about 9 years old, my 2 older sisters were the first and second lead in the play Carousel at their high school. They both had beautiful singing voices; the oldest played Julie, the lead female character and was a senior that year, while the next, the middle sister, played Carrie, the girl that has a safe, normal life. That sister was a sophomore that year.
I must have been in 3rd or 4th grade and witnessed the flurry of year long practice to learn lines and vocals. We already had lots of classical music and show tunes for our record player, and Carousel with Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae was one of those records. The tryouts were in September at the beginning of school, and the play was probably in April toward the end of the year. I think both sisters lost weight from nerves, especially the oldest. I was in awe of both of them. I would stare at the pictures on the album cover and think how beautiful Shirley/Julie was, and how handsome Gordon MacRae/Billy. They both had two of the most beautiful voices on Broadway, or anywhere for that matter. Gordon MacRae reminded me of my dad in looks and voice, and Julie was the heroine. I was so romantic at that age, so pulled in by the story and so disappointed at the unhappy ending. I literally cried when I saw my sisters on stage because they did such a tremendous job that they became those characters to me during their performance.
If you don't know the story, it is about 2 young girls who work in the New England cotton mills on the Maine Coast in the late 1800's. One girl is very intense and thoughtful and quiet - Julie, and the other, Carrie, has a beau who is in the fishing business and has great plans to marry her and have a fleet of boats and become rich. One evening in the summer they go to the traveling fair that is in town and they ride on the Carousel. Billy Bigelow, a rough, but handsome and charming barker works at the carousel. Julie falls for him immediately, and although he fights it, he falls for her. Carrie goes back to the mill house before curfew, but Julie stays out with Billy and that means getting fired from her job and getting a bad reputation. Billy marries her, and doesn't think twice about slapping his wife, or cheating on her. Julie's loyalty and steadiness draw him in, but irritate him at the same time. He knows he isn't good enough for her, and, when she gets pregnant, he begins to fantasize about his son. Suddenly he realizes it could be a girl, and reality hits him. It is one thing to marry a willing girl and give her a bad life, but to bring an innocent child into a tawdry life is another. He vows to provide for this daughter and get money any way he can. He falls in with a criminal, Jigger, who has a plan to rob a large amount of money from someone carrying it to the bank. Billy is desperate and goes in with Jigger. Of course they get caught, Jigger escapes and Billy gets shot by a policeman and dies. Julie is now alone, and the story skips ahead to her grown daughter, now a teenager. Carrie's children are smug and pretentious, they know they are rich and spoiled. They make fun of Julie's daughter, and she is an outcast because of her father. She is lonely and intense like her mother, but she also has her father's sass, which makes her unpopular with adults. Billy is in heaven and wants to come back to tell his daughter that he loved her, and is given one short day to somehow get this across to her without her seeing him or knowing he is there. She senses his presence and is changed by knowing she was loved and that her father wasn't a creep. Julie had always told her about him in loving terms, but she knew his reputation and why he died, and felt betrayed. The movie ends with her graduating from high school and going out into the world with confidence in herself instead of the shame she had carried all her life.
The tragedy of a man who was raised badly, had lived unscrupulously and wanted badly to become legitimate and to be a good father, but doesn't know any way to accomplish this in time for the birth of his daughter, was so unbelievably sad to me. It seemed so, well, tragic. And then he dies in his attempt to make good, albeit robbing someone is not the best idea.
That play has never left me, especially the music that Rogers and Hammerstein crafted. The songs are beautiful and haunting, and sung by Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae, they were the epitome of beauty to me.
I can still recall all the words to the songs to this day, and I am now 61 years old. My favorite song from the entire production is Billy's "The Soliloquy" where he walks along the ocean shore and fantasizes about his relationship with his son, and how he won't let Julie make a sissy out of him. And the whole tone changes when he stops suddenly and realizes it could be a girl. "My Little Girl" is the second part of the Soliloquy and is unutterably beautiful. I can sing that right through from beginning to end and see Gordon MacRae in my head in the scene from the movie.
That story, that play, that music, and my sisters, both beautiful, playing and singing the female leads was magical to me, and it has engraved itself on my heart and my memory. I can still feel the pathos of poor Julie making such a sorry decision as to fall in love with a roustabout, and that roustabout trying to beat the odds of his whole life to be a better man and a father.
Below is the song Carrie sings about her beau followed by "If I Loved You" with Billy and Julie, and "Soliloquy":
Billy and Julie fall in love: