FLASH FRIDAY: You've Never Met A Musical Quite Like CARRIE
The last time the musical version of Stephen King's seminal 1974 novel CARRIE was on Broadway the experience ended in a bloodbath for almost all concerned - critically, that is. You see, back in 1988, the mere idea that a creative team had set out to musicalize this gruesome high school horror story was met with vocal distaste and incredulous looks by many on Broadway who had heard about the then-gestating show, currently in its Stratford tryout production over the pond, under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company and featuring a bicoastal cast led by Broadway legend Barbara Cook, no less. Despite mixed reviews and some clear-cut directorial issues overseas, the production moved to Broadway, anyway, except with superstar CATS Tony Award winner Betty Buckley in the role of Margaret White. The rest, as we now know, is history. Frank Rich and the critical community had a field day with the grand opera-meets-GREASE-style show, which, in the originAl Terry Hands-directed/Debbie Allen-choreographed version, boasted a heavy dose of 80s music video inspiration, as well. Yet, the music was absolutely tremendous more often than not and there were moments of absolute theatrical transcendence of the absolute highest order - "And Eve Was Weak", the searing duet between downtrodden daughter and Medea-esque mother, acting as the highpoint of the near-indescribable evening. Now, almost twenty-five years later, all of that is blood under the bridge and CARRIE is finally back in New York in a new, completely rewritten and re-envisioned production starring Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson. Stafford Arima helms the completely contemporary and fully fleshed out telling of the modern-day classic, the story of a very special girl with telekinetic abilities and the tormenters who compel her to unleash its most horrific power - on prom night, as it were. The screenwriter of Brian De Palma's wildly successful 1976 film version, Lawrence D. Cohen, has gone back to the source material along with original composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford and made essentially an entirely new show out of it - with only the finest, most unforgettable (in a good way) musical moments from the original 1988 show remaining. Indeed, what is now playing in previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, presented by MCC and opening March 4, is the fulfillment of a dream more than thirty years in the making by Cohen, and the realism-based production is now, finally, the ultimate realization of the original direction of the piece as envisioned by its creators way back when. While Carrie's prom night may end in a fugue of fire, bloodshed and the deaths of many, the fate of the musical is evidently a far happier one - even if it took almost thirty years to get everything in its perfect place and time.
I Am The Sound Of Distant Thunder
So, today, let's take a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the first version of CARRIE as presented in the UK and on Broadway, as we look ahead to the brand new version Off-Broadway that brings CARRIE right where she has always belonged - it seems it was only us die-hard fans who knew she always had it in her to succeed after all! As the original posters in Shubert Alley when the show was heading towards Broadway proclaimed, "There's never been a musical like her!" And, now, the same is true again, but in a whole new way.
First, for some background on the show as told by those who were there - and those, incidentally, also involved in the film version's DVD special features - here we have film screenwriter and musical book-writer, Lawrence D. Cohen, as well as original Broadway Margaret White herself, Betty Buckley, recounting the sordid tale of CARRIE the musical in detail.
With a look at the Stratford production of CARRIE led by Barbara Cook as Margaret and Linzi Hateley in the title role - the latter being the young unknown who traveled with the show to Broadway - here we have a performance capture of Hateley's moving rendition of the show's titanic tempest of a title song.
The musical highlight of the wide-ranging score, "And Eve Was Weak" is one of the most explosive and enthralling mother/daughter duets ever written for the stage and acts as clear proof of the special power that this score possess - not unlike the misunderstood genius of the title character herself; as well as her equal-parts triumphant and pitiable plight.
Witness the UK CARRIE's other leading lady, Barbara Cook, bringing her golden voice to the haunting ballad that closes Act I, "I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance", as well as Carrie's fiery reaction to it that acts as the spine-tingling curtain moment.
As a comparison to those Stratford clips, let us now move to the Broadway version of the show - which contained some textual and song changes, as well as new orchestrations by Harold Wheeler - with Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley's simply thrilling take on "And Eve Was Weak". That's some heavy belting brought to heavenly heights and parenting dragged down to hellish lows all wrapped up in one spectacular song!
Next, see this promotional interview with Betty Buckley from GOOD MORNING AMERICA in 1988 in which she discusses the show, as well as the audience's reaction to it - and much more.
Now, check out this rehearsal footage of original show choreographer Debbie Allen putting the athletic and able cast through their paces in this fascinating peek behind the scenes of the creation of a great, big 1980s mega-musical.
Sample the stylish, foreboding and creepy TV commercial for the Broadway CARRIE here.
Now, go all the way back to 1988 and see what Broadway audiences saw: the opening number of CARRIE, "In".
Next we have a short clip of the show's catchiest pop creation, "Unsuspecting Hearts", as performed by Linzi Hateley and notable Phil Spector recording artist Darlene Love, who played Ms. Gardener in the musical (the role originally played by Betty Buckley in the film version).
Taken from the press reels of the 1988 Broadway production, here is the impossibly 80s-styled and 80-sounding prom anthem, "Wotta Night". Yes, the disco ball is inexplicably on the floor.
With the moment many at the time could not stop talking about - mostly for all the wrong reasons - here is perhaps the most horrific prom ever seen on a Broadway stage. Lasers, Plexiglas, disco balls and bad 80s hair only begin to describe the jaw-dropping excesses of "The Destruction". And, at the conclusion, now that's a staircase to Heaven!
And then came the reviews. Words do not suffice… except for those of these cantankerous critics. A veritable bloodbath, indeed. There have never been reviews quite like CARRIE's, to say the least!
The cast of the new CARRIE discusses the musical and its checkered history here.
As a special bonus, here is a hilarious tribute to CARRIE by the castmembers of AVENUE Q, the Tony-winning Broadway musical that originally began at the same theater where CARRIE now plays.
What exactly is it about CARRIE the musical that has kept Broadway babies abuzz for nearly twenty-five years? Is it the unforgettable score? Is it the dazzling leading ladies and their big musical numbers? Is it the over-the-top, camp elements that hampered the original production, perhaps? Or, is it maybe just the lore of being, supposedly, Broadway's biggest flop of all time (although that is not actually factual)? Whatever it is that made it possible for CARRIE the musical to come back to New York and be rethought and newly presented in such a careful and exciting, modern way is a cause celebre for any theatre fan worth their flop history in and of itself.
Yes, CARRIE is back in a huge way so catch her while you can - and, you never know, maybe you can take her to your prom and see if things turn out differently. Or not. Either way, make a date with CARRIE - or else.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro