2018 Tony Awards preview: Scott Rudin bringing ‘Carousel’ back to Broadway with Jessie Mueller

Carousel,” the 1945 landmark musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II adapted from Ferenc Molnar’s 1909 stage play, “Liliom,” is returning to Broadway next season, courtesy of producers Scott Rudin and Roy Furman. Set to star in the revival are Tony and Grammy winner Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful” in 2014) and two-time Tony nominee Joshua Henry (“The Scottsboro Boys” in 2011, “Violet” in 2014).

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Set in 19th-century New England, “Carousel” tells the story of Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker whose ill-fated romance with millworker Julie Jordan comes at the price of both their jobs. He attempts a robbery to provide for Julie and their unborn child; after it goes wrong, he is given a chance to make things right. Some of the musical’s best-known songs include “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The original production opened on Broadway in 1945 (which was two years before the very first Tony Awards took place) with John Raitt and Jan Clayton in the starring roles. It has since been revived four times on the Great White Way. After the original production closed on May 24, 1947, it went on tour before finding its way back to Broadway for a limited run in 1949 with lead actors Stephen Douglass and Iva Withers.

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The second revival ran in the summer of 1954. It starred Chris Robinson and Jo Sullivan (who would later be married to composer/lyricist Frank Loesser for the last 10 years of his life), and was directed by William Hammerstein (the son of book writer and lyricist Oscar).

The third revival in 1957 (a year after the film version was released) starred Howard Keel and Barbara Cook (who would follow this up with her Tony-winning performance as Marian Paroo in “The Music Man”). It earned the musical its very first Tony nomination: Best Scenic Design for Oliver Smith, who won several Tonys in his career for designing the original productions of “My Fair Lady,” “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Hello, Dolly!” among many others.

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The most recent revival took place at Lincoln Center Theater in 1994 following an acclaimed production at the Royal National Theatre in London. The production starred Michael Hayden and Sally Murphy. It swept all five of its Tony Award nominations: Best Musical Revival (in the first year two separate categories were presented to play and musical revivals), Best Direction of a Musical (Nicholas Hytner), Best Choreography (posthumously awarded to Sir Kenneth MacMillan), Best Scenic Design (Bob Crowley, the first of his seven wins) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Audra McDonald, the first of her record six wins. McDonald played the role of Carrie Pipperidge, a millworker and friend of Julie.

The cast of this new production will be led by Mueller as Julie Jordan, Henry as Billy Bigelow, and four-time Grammy-winning opera star Renee Fleming as Julie’s cousin, Nettie Fowler. Two of Peck’s City Ballet colleagues will also be featured in the cast: Amar Ramasar as Jigger Craigin, a whaler friend of Billy, and Brittany Pollack as Louise, Billy and Julie’s daughter.

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The new production will be directed by three-time Tony winner Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray” in 2003, “Henry IV” in 2004, “The Coast of Utopia” in 2007), with choreography by 29-year-old Justin Peck, a resident choreographer at the New York City Ballet who previously appeared on Broadway as a performer in “Movin’ Out,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Come Fly Away.” Peck told the press that he has studied the work of the original choreographer, Agnes De Mille and that “I’m hoping to both pay homage to what she did originally, and to extend the show further into new territory.” He added that he expected the new revival would “be an even more dance-and-movement-focused production,” taking new steps toward integrating the show’s elements.

Also part of the creative team are EGOT-winning orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, Tony winning sound designer Scott Lehrer (“South Pacific” in 2008), Tony winning lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (“Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” in 1996, “Assassins” in 2004, “Lucky Guy” in 2013), Tony winning set designer Santo Loquasto (“Cafe Crown” in 1989), and Oscar and Tony winning costume designer Ann Roth (“The English Patient” on film in 1996, “The Nance” on stage in 2013).

The production is currently scheduled to open on March 23, 2018, at a theater yet to be announced.

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Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.

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