With eleven Tony nominations and two wins, the current Broadway revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic musical Carousel is one of the most acclaimed shows of the past season, thanks to a stellar cast, a beloved score, a pristine overall production — and a willingness to reckon with difficult issues as relevant today as they were in the 1940s when the musical was first produced. As cast members (and Tony nominees) Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller and Renée Fleming discuss on the latest (July 25) edition of the Billboard on Broadway podcast, the show offered welcome challenges to all.
As Henry, Mueller and Fleming explain, Carousel was a departure from their usual roles; Henry and Mueller have often starred in pop-leaning new musicals, and Fleming comes to the show from a storied career in opera. “I wanted to do something that was the opposite of anything I’d done before, and I’d never done this kind of classical sound on Broadway to this extent. That’s what made it very exciting,” says Henry, who plays troubled lead Billy Bigelow. “To sort of redefine myself vocally.”
“I was very intimidated by a lot of it for a long time,” Mueller, who plays protagonist Julie Jordan, adds. “Something like ‘If I Loved You’ was up there on a pedestal for me. It really took going through the process, getting inside of it — my nightly challenge is to stay as present as possible.”
The show deals with heavy subjects including abuse, unemployment, and crime, and all three agree that the production has confronted those subjects head-on, with director Jack O’Brien welcoming the cast’s questions. “The darker aspects of the story are still so relevant,” Fleming, who plays Nettie Fowler, says. “And I do think people are reacting so strongly to the piece because it’s so relevant.” “We don’t pretend like we don’t face darkness anymore — we can’t,” Mueller says. ” We know we have to look at it and we have to work really hard to choose love. And that’s one of the themes this play explores.”
In their conversation with host Rebecca Milzoff, the trio delve into a wide range of subjects, from how they negotiate their marathon solos onstage to why revivals feel so exciting on Broadway right now (“it’s not enough just to dust it off anymore,” Henry says). Listen to the stars of Carousel on this week’s episode below.