Obsessive musical theater fans, myself included, have waited a quarter of a century for the notorious 1988 Broadway musical Carrie, which shuttered after just five performances and left behind no cast album, to receive a new production.
For the past 24 years, the original writing team (composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and book writer Lawrence D. Cohen) has refused to grant any professional company the rights to revive the show. But somehow Stafford Arima, who is best known for staging the Off-Broadway hit musical Altar Boyz, was able to convince the trio to revisit the piece and to let him direct it.
Alas, this new Off-Broadway staging, produced by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street, is not so much a revival as it is an unnecessary apology for the excess, mess and insanity of the bizarre original production.
To be perfectly honest, I did not see the original production in 1988. I was just five years old at the time and my parents were too busy teaching me how to read to take me to the flop musical of the century. Nevertheless, in light of the overwhelming number of articles about the original production, as well as extensive bootleg audio and video available on YouTube, anyone can easily compare and contrast the original and the revival.
Carrie, based on Stephen King’s classic novel about a bullied girl whose mother is a religious fanatic and who discovers that she has telekinetic powers, remains the most infamous flop in Broadway history. It even inspired a must-have book about flop musicals titled Not Since Carrie.
The original Broadway production tried to mix elements of Greek tragedy with pop ballads and Saved by the Bell aesthetics. It was wildly uneven, perplexing and kind of unforgettable. Arima’s coherent but unexciting production, which incorporates extensive rewrites, downplays the horror, spectacle and mayhem that made Carrie so wildly theatrical. It plays out like a realistic but toothless and generic parable of teen bullying.
The story is now unnecessarily framed as a flashback with Sue, the heartfelt teen who survives Carrie’s rampage, narrating to the police. And Miss Gardner, Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher, sports an annoying southern accent to differentiate her from everyone else.
The climactic sequence where a bucket of pig’s blood is poured onto Carrie at the prom is merely suggested through video effects and a flood of red light, robbing the moment of its heightened gruesomeness.
The set is spare and the cast is noticeably small, with just a handful of students. The offbeat choreography looks as if it was lifted directly from Spring Awakening.
Marin Mazzie, who displays a quiet intensity as Margaret White, is noticeably restrained in the role. Molly Ranson has a terrific voice but fails to suggest Carrie’s extrasensory strength and spooky personality. At the prom, Ranson looks and acts just like all the other teens.
This all begs the question of whether Carrie needs another revival – perhaps one that incorporates the rewrites of the revival with the original production’s theatricality (and fake blood), but without resorting to camp. Here’s hoping it won’t take another quarter of a century for Carrie to go back to the prom.