"This was a real nice clambake, and we all had a real good time," wrote Oscar Hammerstein II.

The same could be said of the festivities last night at the Mall, where the cast from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" and other celebrities gathered to celebrate what was to have been opening night of the musical, which is in previews at the Kennedy Center.

But forget the clams. It was the carousel that they came for. A carousel that would have delighted Billy Bigelow.

"I rode one of these about a year and a half ago," said Tom Wopat, who plays Billy Bigelow, the barker in "Carousel."

"We used one in an episode of 'Dukes of Hazzard.' "

But for Charlton Heston it had been a much longer time. "I took my son on one when he was five . . . in Paris when we were filming 'Ben Hur,' " said Heston, who was dressed in a navy blue jogging outfit, having just gotten offstage at the Eisenhower Theater, where he is appearing in and directing "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial."

"The French woman who owned the carousel wanted to charge MGM a vast sum of money because she said we were using it to rehearse the chariot race."

Heston later got atop one of the ponies on the Mall's carousel, his wife Lydia riding behind in one of the chariots.

Sitting at a table, taking in the carnival atmosphere, were the two Dorothys -- Rodgers and Hammerstein, widows of the famed musical team.

"I'm a bit overawed," Dorothy Hammerstein, 87, said earlier in the evening during intermission. "It's like hearing the words from your husband again. I've been crying. I think it's fantastic," she said, announcing her approval of the revival of the production. Hammerstein said she was doubly moved because it is her son James who is directing the show. "I think that's one of the reasons I'm crying more -- because I'm so proud of him."

"Carousel" was to have opened last night, but opening night was postponed until Tuesday. "I've been working my company so hard that I thought I'd give them a chance to rest their voices before the critics came," explained director Hammerstein.

Said Rodgers, "I thought it was wonderful . . . it's such a moving play. It was my husband's favorite score, so I have a special feeling about it."

There were clams, oysters and barbecued softshell crabs aplenty, but guests seemed more eager to ride the carousel, some of them with drink in hand.

Melvin Laird got a chocolate ice cream cone for Wolf Trap founder Catherine Filene Shouse, who licked at the cone while riding around in one of the chariots. "I think it's a terrific idea," said Shouse, "but I want to ride a horse." Minutes later Shouse found herself perched atop one of the carousel's ponies.

Others that took turns on the twirling ride were Peggy and Conrad Cafritz, Roger and Christine Stevens and Polly Fritchey.

Jim Wells, owner of the carousel, was not overwhelmed by all the celebrities who were riding his horses. "We've had a lot of prominent people ride it," he said casually, then wandered over to get a closer look at Charlton Heston.