Monday, March 26, 2012

Carrie: The Musical

I felt as if I had stepped back in some strange time warp. The year was 1988 and I saw Carrie: The Musical on Broadway. It was also some time around then, I saw the off-Broadway play Steel Magnolias at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Well, those two came together when I caught the 2012 revamped Carrie playing at the Lortel this weekend. And I'm so glad that I did.

The musical of Carrie has been the butt of numerous jokes. The idea of turning Stephen King's book into a musical baffled many. It was the largest flop in history. Even the title of a book of flops. But for those of us old enough to have seen Betty Buckley & Linzi Hately in the original (and trust me, the amount of people that say they actually saw it have grown beyond the number the theater would have held) - we have been waiting for years for someone to rework this musical. For many of us, the scenes between Carrie & her mother were opera gold. Beautiful arias and duets that sent shivers down your spine. And then the rest of the show would happen. And you would ask yourself "what bad 80s nightmare have I been dropped into where the torture is unending dance scenes, pyrotechnics, and some cutesy telekinetic dance number with shoes." (You can search the internet to see others videos of the original or someone has put together a listing from both productions.) 

But many have said the show could be fixed. It deserved to be salvaged. And the writing team returned under the directive eye of Stafford Arima (who at my age also saw the show at 19 the first time around) and have scaled down that vast show from the late 80s. The critics have seen it, they've weighed in - but let me share my thoughts.

Marin Mazzie & Molly Ranson in Carrie
What worked before still works. Marin Mazzie gives us a different Margaret White than the crazed woman we are used to seeing. Hers is more a woman teetering on the edge (perhaps after playing a bipolar mother in Next to Normal) - but it still works for me. Her Margaret has a heart, pain, emotion that begs for us to understand her and feel for her. Many have complained she is not crazy enough...but I really appreciated her performance. (Even as I type that - I still love to hear Betty Buckley sing this score and glad we have the internet to hear her on the songs.) Others have stated that Molly Ranson is not enough of an outcast, but her performance made us feel for Carrie and cheer for her (even though everyone in the audience knows where the show is going) She has a great voice for the role.

But where this performance works more for me is the changes to the other characters. I loved that it was moved to the present where bullying is such a hot topic. The actors playing the other 'kids' were believable - something I never felt the first time around (and remember: I was 19 when I saw it then and still didn't understand why every word was accompanied by a kick split in the air). There seemed to be more emphasis placed on these people and how they felt (new songs) rather than "let's all do the same dance moves in the same white clothes and sing about killing a pig." (And thank God they got rid of the song "Don't Waste the Moon" which sadly I can still sing in my head.) I understood each of the characters a little more as solos made us see inside of them (and isn't that what musical theatre is about?) I know there were original songs to give us some insight into Sue and others, but they were overshadowed by the enormity of that production. And by having less people on stage now - each person had a purpose and a real character. Not just 'ensemble wearing white #8'. 

2012: Didn't wait for Mazzie
This production was greatly aided by being in a smaller venue. Scenes were created with chairs and projections. Afterwards, I told my other half all about the huge white set from the original and how the prom/destruction scene was one hot, expensive mess that could never be created by any other theater company. But what they did with projections in this small space made perfect sense to me. (And somehow plastering the kids against the wall in a final tableau was really cool!)

Everyone waits for the 'blood' scene in Carrie...and it was cleverly achieved in this show. And I still found myself feeling for her and her mother by the closing scene.

1988: Greg & Buckley after show
It was awesome to return to 24 years ago and see this again. I know critics still didn't enjoy Carrie returning to New York - but I hope perhaps it will give her 'new life' in theaters across the country.


  1. Fantastic review! Awesome that you can compare it to the original.

    1. Thanks, Arthur. So odd to do that with 24 years between it. :-)