Posts Tagged ‘Carousel’

“In a Conventional Dither”: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Camouflaged Critique of Race Relations at Mid-Century

During the three-year stretch in which Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s South Pacific and The King and I reached the Broadway stage, theatrical expressions of support for the equality of black and white were a dicey proposition, courting charges of Communist sympathies. And yet in these two musicals, lyricist and librettist Hammerstein found a way to voice that support. However, in keeping with the times as well as his temperament, he did so by indirection, and also with what might be called camouflage: presenting the “destabilizing” message about race relations in a matrix that included remarkably conventional and reassuring, even retrograde, messages concerning the relations of the sexes and colonialism.

Impossible Elegance

So what I was responding to when I listened to that record, over and over again, was just what the music was meant to be about: the personalities of show business folk, and the tendency of their way of life to isolate the lonely and to amplify the personality disorders of the narcissistic – but also about the miraculous, partly healing but also partly wounding powers of showbiz razzamatazz.