I suppose you can make a case that Carrie is the greatest musical flop in history. I’ll let you decide what I mean by “greatest.” The adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, with a book by Lawrence D. Cohen and score by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England in early 1988. A story of the high school outcast with the crazy religious fanatic mother from hell and telekinetic powers was a popular bestseller and a Oscar-nominated horror film starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.
The musical proved to be far less than successful. Reviews were mixed in England, and the show was plagued by considerable technological problems. Yet the show continued to Broadway only two months later where it closed after 5 performances amidst some of the most scathing pans known to theatre. Ken Mandelbaum even called his essential book on flop musicals Not Since Carrie (and I implore to you read it if you haven’t; it’s fascinating, informative and entertaining). The score is something of a legend, and has an ardent group of fans. For more of the dish, read Mandelbaum’s book, you can read about the horror story that was the musical’s tenure on Broadway.
While I don’t care for much of the show (not available on cast album, but there is a sound system recording of the Broadway run that has made it’s way to seemingly everyone), the numbers for Carrie and her mother are actually quite arresting, their duets and Margaret’s solos especially. If the rest of the score had been half as good as these numbers, Carrie’s fate might not have been worse than death.
Linzi Hateley was cast as the title character and with her youthfulness and large belt voice managed she emerged mostly unscathed from the entire ordeal, even winning a Theatre World Award. More curious: Barbara Cook was cast as Margaret White, in her first book musical appearance since the fast failure of The Grass Harp in 1971. After part of the set nearly decapitated her, Ms. Cook made the decision not to continue with the production after Stratford. For NY, Betty Buckley (also the gym teacher from the film version) was cast. I can’t think of more of a divergence in styles, from Cook’s soprano to Buckley’s fiery belt, but that’s the way it was.
Here is a glimpse into both performing “And Eve Was Weak,” the first number where we really get to see Margaret White go off the deep end.
Betty Buckley (excerpt)
Pretty soon New York will revisit this darker chapter in its history, when MCC Theatre revives the notorious Carrie in a revised version that will address the issues that made it an embarrassing and high profile failure in the 80s. Tickets are hard to come by, and it is one of the more anticipated offerings of the winter, with performances starting January 31. Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson, who did a reading a couple years ago, will star. It’ll be interesting to see if Carrie has a better time at the prom the second time around.