For those of you who have read my blogs in the past you can probably tell that I have a bit of a soft spot when it comes to those flops, the shows that almost, could have, or nearly did but never quite made it. Whilst the turkeys with no redeeming features are fun to look in to, I’m more interested in the ones that had a lot to offer but for one reason or another messed it all up by the time it opened, that is the best way to describe Carrie.
For the few of you that don’t know much about the show let me bring you up to speed. Carrie the musical is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, a coming of age/horror story about a young girl with telekinetic powers whose daily tormenting from her classmates and strict religious mother finally pushes her to the edge on prom night.
The musical was adapted for the stage by book writer Lawrence D Cohen (who also wrote the screenplay for the Oscar Nominated film version) and music and lyrics by Dean Pitchford (Footloose the Musical) and Michael Gore (Fame). In 1984 a workshop of the musical took place, judging from audio recordings it seemed to be on the right track with realistic scenes and some strong songs. After funding fell through however, the show languished in the theatrical index pages under ‘coming soon.’
Finally a company stepped in to co produce the show along with a German investor who was putting a large amount of the $8 million budget in to the show himself, that company and the director attached would prove to be the shows undoing, step forward the Royal Shakespeare Company (yes really) and director Terry Hands. Carrie would open right here in the UK first on Feb 13th 1988.
Hands who had only ever directed one musical before admitted to knowing very little about American teenage life and boy did it show! Choosing to move the show out of a realistic setting and make it almost Greek tragedy styled, what ended up on stage was confusing at best. A white box set with sliding panels, kids in PVC and Leather, uptempo pop songs performed in what appeared to be togas and a gigantic staircase that whilst looking fantastic had the audience scratching their heads wondering what it was meant to represent.
Opening at the RSC Stratford in 1988 the show played a limited 3 and a half week season and completely sold out, something the RSC were not used to happening so far in advance. Audiences seemed to enjoy the show and found it fun but many of the UK critics tore the show apart and accused the RSC of selling out in order to get another musical to Broadway (they had enjoyed success with Les Mis), but with the money rolling in the show stuck to its planned schedule of heading over to Broadway.
All the cast (who were a joint British/American cast, the first and last time that has ever happened) headed to the big apple apart from Barbara Cook who declined not to move on with the show. Producers called in Betty Buckley who had won a Tony for her role in Cats and oddly enough starred in the movie version of Carrie in a different role. Joining her were Linzi Hately as Carrie (her first role), Charlotte D’Amboise, Sally Ann Triplett, Darlene Love and Fame star Gene Anthony Ray.
The show previewed to the most varied reaction ever heard in a Broadway theatre, boos rang out from the balcony one second yet a standing ovation and wild applause greeted the cast the next, everyone was talking about Carrie. However on opening night the critics tore the show apart (except a couple of positive reviews including The New York Post). Before you could say ‘Scary White’ the show posted its closing notice only a few days after opening, the show lost all its investment (oddly enough the RSC made a profit from the sell out UK run).
Unlike most flops Carrie had a nonstop energy to the piece, it managed to hit theatrical highs one moment then scrape the bottom of the barrel the next. Buckley gave a power house performance as Margret White and Linzi Hately earned some good reviews in the title role and also won a best newcomer award.
The score also had some real gems in, mainly the songs between mother and daughter and the idea for a stage show of Carrie (with its very operatic and theatrical themes) was not a bad one. However for all the good in the show it could not overcome the bad (largely production problems). Terrible staging, awful costumes, a confused set, a song about killing a pig and some over the top choreography by Debbie Allen sealed the shows fate.
Most flops would fade away over time but not Carrie, thanks largely to the many live audios and bootleg DVDs going around the show has lived on, everyone claims to have seen the show live (if this were true I’m sure it’s run would have been much longer) and people have been hoping that one day the show would come back..... and now it is!
After a couple of years of workshops, half of the score being replaced, the book rewritten and the ideas for the new version including to bring it back to reality (the togas and leather are gone) the show opens Off Broadway in January at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (a much smaller intimate theatre that the one it played on Broadway in 88). Now the Carrie fans including myself wait anxiously to see if this show can be saved and turned around. Signs are looking good with Stafford Arima directing the show (his work on shows like Altar Boyz is impressive) Vocal power house Marin Mazzie (Next To Normal) will play the role of Margret White and Molly Ranson (August Osage County) will play Carrie herself.
I’m sure the producers of the new Carrie are all keeping their fingers crossed that the Off Broadway run will prove to be such a success that it moves to Broadway, and what a great sight that will be to see the word Carrie on a Broadway Marquee again.
The original advert for the 1988 production read ‘There’s Never Been a Musical Like Her’ and they were quite right, let’s hope that remains true and the new and hopefully improved show finds its own original voice and identity.
So if you’re going to New York would you go and see Carrie wreak havoc on her prom night?
What flop show would you love to see revived and fixed?
Till next time
- Craig Hepworth