I don't think there's a musical fan alive who is ashamed of finding a copy of the soundboard bootleg from one of the only performances of Carrie: The Musical. The show is infamous. From Debbie Allen's pop video choreography to the large white box set to Carrie suddenly having pyrokinetic powers to a song dedicated to slicing up pigs, Carrie reads like a colossal failure on paper. Technically, it was. The original production only managed five performances before shuttering. The critics ripped the production to shreds and the show even lost a leading lady--Barbara Cook--before it reached Broadway. The producers were confident the show would resonate with NYC audiences and they were right.
Every report you can find about Carrie: The Musical dives into how wild the audience went for the show. Yes, it was over the top and kind of trashy and didn't make a whole lot of sense, but the crowd ate it up. When done right, musicals can be an excellent vehicle for horror. It's hard to imagine someone not wanting to see more of a show based on the grainy video footage available on YouTube.
Unfortunately, most of the show was nothing like this. Just based on the footage of Margaret and Carrie White in the house, I've fantasized about a revised production taking place entirely in the White house. Forget about showing what the kids are doing to Carrie--she's a reliable enough narrator early on to establish her as a victim. Focus on the isolation she feels at home leading to her psychic awakening. Key characters--Sue, the gym teacher, Billy, etc.--could visit the Whites to deal with the school drama.
But I digress. What the original Broadway production did was...special. Unique. Bizarre.
A large white box. Spandex. Leotards. No sight of the title character at all. This is how the Broadway production opened. A rap-aerobics song about catching a man. An intimate little story about a high school girl on the brink of something big and dangerous doesn't need huge dance songs to draw the audience in.
It gets stranger. I've seen the book and score before. People trade copies of real Broadway books/scores all the time. And you know what? The show is solid on paper. It really is.
When you can actually see the lyrics and how the music is arranged, the disconnect between the White household and the high school world makes sense. Carrie slowly starts to shift away from the grandiose religious tones and rhetoric to the contemporary language and sound of her peers, only to be thrown right back into her mother's arms by the prom prank that fully unleashes her power. There are so many clever tricks in the score and really beautiful moments specified in the book that it's hard to imagine how the show bombed.
The problem was not one of content but one of presentation. You know, there's another musical that thought it would be a great idea to take a popular story and try to turn it into a Greek tragedy set to music. It's former director is now being counter-sued for irreparably damaging the book and staging of a $75+million superhero musical.
Sometimes, production teams get in their own way. Such was the case with Carrie: The Musical. There was this grand vision of an epic rock tragedy onstage with flashy visuals and a collapsible set. What the show needed was a realistic set, simpler choreography, and a cast of actors that looked like teenagers. A modern production would need new orchestrations, as well, as the shrieking synth orchestra from the original 1988 Broadway mounting is like nails on a chalkboard.
Enter the MCC in NYC. The original writing/composing team--Lawrence D. Cohen, Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford--has been quietly rewriting the entire show in workshops over the past few years. Now, in February, the show will return Off-Broadway for a limited run. Half of the score will be missing (boo! hiss!) and there's a brand new book that focuses on characters, not spectacle (I'm listening).
What encourages me the most is not new content, but the limited view of the set in a new video from Broadway World. It's the White household. It's dull, it's rundown, and it doesn't appear to be designed for a quick transformation into a large white tomb. Did they really rewrite it as the chamber musical of my dreams?
I'm not so sure about the new song (it's no "Crackerjack (Out for Blood)," but what is?), but I'm a little more optimistic about the new Carrie. It's starting to turn into a "some version is better than no version" situation. I would love to be involved in a production of this show but the only way right now is to stage it without permission. That kind of production rarely ends without issue.
The goal, quite clearly, seems to be to build interest for a Broadway revival. Of course there's interest. A running gag in the NYC area is that more people claim to have seen the original production than there were tickets sold from the first preview to closing night. The question is whether or not there's enough good in Carrie to salvage.
The "half new songs" emphasis scares me. I can only think of a few songs--"Out for Blood," "In," "Wotta Night"--that probably needed to be replaced. Unless the bulk of these new songs go to Carrie and Mrs. White, I fear this production might not do any better than the original.
What drives people to Stephen King's best novel and the film version is the story of Carrie White. For every moment that the focus shifts to Tommy, Sue, or Chris, there are at least two moments that focus on Carrie. The only place for a huge series of fireworks (not literally, for goodness' sake) is the prom. At that point, you're so invested in Carrie's story that it almost becomes a relief that the prank results in the destruction. Huge dance numbers and large crowd scenes do not compliment the story at all.
We'll see in a few weeks what will come of the MCC production of Carrie: The Musical. I never wish a production will fail, but this is one of the few that I want to succeed beyond my wildest imagination.
And you know what? If I get to see it, I'll be happy just to see "Evening Prayers" performed live. They wouldn't cut "Evening Prayers," would they?
Thoughts? Love to hear them.