The revival of Carousel is an instance of a phenomenon that seems to date from the 1980s—the English redaction, rethinking, reshuffling of American cultural artifacts from a couple of generations back. On the musical side, there was a Porgy and Bess at Glyndebourne, a Guys and Dolls at the Royal National Theatre (not the production now in New York), and a Carmen Jones at the Old Vic; there is a Pal Joey now in the works in London. On the dramatic side, attempts have regularly been made to resuscitate minor Williams like Orpheus Descending. The tack generally is to claim to be deglamorizing and deprettifying a work whose revelation of the horrors of American life has been obscured by the passage of time and, more sinisterly, by the forces of conformity.

Something of this sort clearly inspired Nicholas Hytner, the youngish director of Miss Saigon, to take a look at Carousel, the...

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