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"They're All Going To Laugh At You": Broadway's Most Unlikely Musical.

Illustration for article titled Theyre All Going To Laugh At You: Broadways Most Unlikely Musical.

Stephen King has famously expressed his disapproval over Stanley Kubrick's movie of The Shining
http://jezebel.com/stephen-king-h…, but he's remained quiet about another notable adaptation: the 1988 Broadway musical version of Carrie. Perhaps he attributed it to some sort of fever dream.


The obvious question is "why?" However, it's not that weird if you think about it. After all, there had been a hit musical about a barber turned serial killer, and the Royal Shakespeare Company's previous hit production was based on a depressing French novel. Heck, people forget that the punchline of The Producers was that Springtime For Hitler was a hit. The story does have elements that could translate to a musical: a tortured title character, a strong part for her mother, and a shocking climax.

Carrie had a decent pedigree, too: the songs were by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, who had won an Oscar for the theme song from "Fame," and the book was by Lawrence D. Cohen, who had already adapted the novel for the 1976 movie. Choreography was by Fame's Debbie Allen, and soul music legend Darlene Love played Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher. The rest of the cast was filled out by up-and-coming British and American actors. The cost was a cool $8 million, less than Phantom Of The Opera's $12 million but still expensive.


There were problems from the beginning of the tryout in England. Songs were rewritten, but more importantly there was a key technical problem: when Carrie (Linzi Hateley) was doused with pig's blood, her body mic would get clogged, thus ruining the climactic scene. By the time they went to the US, the actress playing Margaret White, Barbara Cook, quit after almost being killed by a stage setup and was replaced by Betty Buckley (who coincidentally played the gym teacher in the 1976 movie)

After the previews in Stratford, the musical went into previews, and early reports were not good. When Carrie debuted at The Virginia Theater on May 12, the reviews were savage: Howard Kissel of the Daily News wrote "Halfway through Carrie, I suddenly wished I could take back some of the nasty things I said a few weeks ago about Chess, because Carrie is so disgusting it makes Chess look adorable." The backers pulled out, and the show closed on May 15.

Of course, I was not lucky to see the show myself, but based on the surviving material the problem was clear. There are two ways one could approach this material for a musical: deadly serious a la Phantom or campy as hell. The book and lyrics seemed to take it seriously while the actual production was camp enough to send John Waters into orbit. It didn't help that the lyrics, while serious, sounded like a parody:

"Then finally, I'd hear those words
Sounding so sweet!
Thousands of voices forever repeating
I am the sound of distant thunder!
The color of flame!
I'm Carrie!
I am the song of endless wonder that no one will claim!
But someday...
Oh my someday!
Someone will know my name!!!"


Yeah. There's also a scene which shows the mean guys singing at a farm as they kill the pig.

Carrie was such a flop that it leant its title to a book on famous Broadway flops http://www.amazon.ca/Not-Since-Carr…. However, as in the end of the movie, Carrie has made a surprise reappearance. Starting in 1999, several unauthorized productions were staged, including one at a Danish high school(!) In 2009, Cohen and the songwriters began working on a revamped version of the musical, eventually debuting off-Broadway in 2012. It was a limited engagement, but future productions are being planned in Seattle and LA. Perhaps they won't laugh this time.


(This article wouldn't be possible without this site http://www.graiai.com/carrie/, the source of the Hirschfeld drawing)

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