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Monday
Mar122012

Stage Door: Carrie White, Sweeney Todd, and More...

Some people just can't be killed. Carrie White is one of them.

The bastard girl was born from a sweaty brief affair between religious fanatic Margaret White and a man unknown. (Maybe Margaret doesn't even know since the memory of sex seems to fill her with such masochistic horndog fever; can we trust anything that pours from her mouth not to have been thoroughly reworked by her demented faith?) By 1974 the shy teenager was infamous having massacred her whole town in the pages of Stephen King's best seller "Carrie". Brian de Palma's film adaptation Carrie (1976) immortalized the teenage telekinetic once and for all. Carrie White "burns in hell" but she's still aflame in popular culture, too. There will be no snuffing her out.

So what better time to resurrect her again than now when teen bullying is such a hot news topic? "Carrie" (the musical) was an infamous flop on Broadway in 1988 but the shy awkward girl has been given a makeover and is born again Off Broadway at the MCC Theater where she will rampage through April 22nd.

It's always a bit hard to imagine Carrie rampaging when you first meet her all shy awkward and lonely in that hell on earth: the high school locker room.

Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson in "Carrie" Off Broadway

MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

Carrie benefitted immeasurably from Spacek's eery capacity to internalize terror legitimizing the eventual external terror (the high school massacre, known as "The Destruction" in the musical) as an inevitable impulse control tragedy. But musical theater has no closeups, only songs. 

And one of the strange things about the musical is how traditional those songs are, hobbling any chance Molly Ranson might've had at getting anywhere near as deep and eery as Spacek's classic portrayal. I wasn't familiar with the musical so perhaps I was expecting too much but it's unmistakably an 80s musical score, which makes for a strange out-of-time dissonance since the famiiar story is so iconically 70s but they've updated the book to make it all 21st century (the teens are into social media and frequently seen texting). Three decades are vying for attention.

The songs are servicable to pleasant but "The Destruction" -- which is staged very well if you can get passed the weird sight of a prom populated by only 7 or 8 people -- memorably mashes them up. That's a smart musical way to illustrate Carrie's splintering psyche. But the high point of the musical for me is the tragic ballad "When There's No One" which just pours out of Marin Mazzie as Margaret White decides to murder her only child. (Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, and all that.) Mazzie's mouth always seems inhumanly enormous when she sings but here even more so. That giant voice demands it! Her performance is the one that differs most from the film version which is smart. There's no sense trying to recreate Piper Laurie's Oscar-worthy Jesus freak even if Laurie's Margaret White is way more fun. Mazzie's Margaret is more gut-wrenchingly sad which brings me to the main disconnect I felt with the show.

 Betty Buckley's "When There's No One". She's the gym teacher in the movie but
she played Margaret White in the original Broadway production.

Carrie the musical plays it totally straight eschewing camp at virtually all moments -- there's not even a big song called "They're All Gonna Laugh At You" and you know Brian de Palma would've wanted there to be with the way he played up that line in the film. Still, despite the deadly earnestness of the show, the audience giggled consistently, bringing their own Carrie in with them.

I'm glad to have finally seen this infamous Broadway flop, but not for the show itself exactly. It's only "A Night You'll Never Forget" (an earworm song. Be warned!) in a cracked mirror sort of way. It provides yet another slivered reflection of this telekinetic tragedienne. All resurrections of 'Scarrie' White only reinforce the immortality of the original bloody handed birth in Stephen King's novel  (1974) and fiery death in Brian de Palma's Carrie (1976).

Other Stage Related Stories of Note
• LONDON. TFE favorite Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) is playing "Mrs Lovett" in a new production of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece (one of them at any rate) Sweeney Todd in London. The official opening night is March 20th. If any British readers get tickets, we must hear from you. That's an order! Don't disappoint us.

• NEW YORK. In other Sondheim news if you haven't heard, Into the Woods will play Shakespeare in the Park's 50th season this summer (Jul 23-Aug 25). Tickets are free so if you've been putting off that NYC trip and can handle our dreadfully sticky August heat, what could be better than Into the Woods outdoors? We absolutely cannot wait.

• NEW YORK. The great Audra McDonald (I still haven't seen Porgy & Bess. sniffle) and Steven Colbert dueting on the immortal song "Summertime". ♥

 

 

• LOTS OF PLACES.  Shatner's World: We Just Live In It is currently on tour (PA, IL, WI, CO, TX, and MO are next) if you want to hear cheeky William Shatner reminisce about his life in showbiz.

• CHICAGO. Cyndi Lauper's first foray into musical theater composition, an adaptation of the drag film Kinky Boots that starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, will try itself out in Chicago this fall. I didn't much like the film but Lauper is so gifted that I'm curious if her songwriting skills transfer to story-based writing.

•EVERYWHERE. Sutton Foster, one of the best performers anywhere but sadly unknown outside of theatergoing circles, is finally "going to series". She did a few episodes of Flight of the Conchords but unlike most Broadway headliners, her resume is super light outside of theater. She'll now star in Bunheads from the creator of Gilmore Girls about a former Las Vegas showgirl moving to the sticks. But this means she had to leave Broadway's Anything Goes this weekend. There goes our plan to take tourist friends to see it next month.

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Reader Comments (11)

Not meant to hijack but watch the video. What could be more perfect? Impressive.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/click/2012/03/streep-compares-herself-to-hillary-clinton-117164.html

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

I saw Carrie this weekend as well, and I too thought it could have used a good ole shot of camp. It almost took itself too seriously...like it was screaming "LOOK THIS ISN'T A FLOP", when really it did need a dose of wacky. It's a horror musical, for goodness sake. Give us some horror.

Also, it is awful I reaaaaalllly wanted to see the blood actually get dumped on her?

And I am DYING for Into the Woods this summer. DYING.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Enjoyed this post! :)

Two fun facts:
1. There've been rumors about our mutual favorite Donna Murphy as the witch in INTO THE WOODS. If that happens I will be sleeping at that park every night, you can be sure of it.
2. "Bunheads" will also star the wonderul Kelly Bishop- another reason to rejoice. :)

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeehee

Kim, right? I don't even care who is in it. Into the Woods is so awesome. I admit i was like "awwww" at first about the blood but i do think that sequence was imaginatively /satisfyingly staged.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

@Leehee Donna Murphy as the Witch? Um, kill me now and send me to musical theatre heaven. Cause that would be AWESOME. Just thinking about her singing "Last Midnight" gives me chills.

I have never camped out before, but I very may well be camping for this. Though I am a firm believer in the cancellation line. I have never NOT gotten into the Delacorte that way, and that includes Pacino in The Merchant of Venice. Got a seat 5th row center that way.

@Nathaniel, yes that sequence WAS staged well for what it was. But after seeing gore fests like Evil Dead the Musical and Lieutenant of Inishmore, I guess I am a little blood thirsty :-)

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I wish I could see this production of Carrie on stage. Or Into the Woods. I'm very jealous of you New Yorkers.

But being in London means that I can and will see Imelda Staunton's Sweeney Todd (as I like to refer to it) and will let you know how it goes. I have it on good authority that she is an incredible Mrs. Lovett.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterticklepickleme

I too will be eagerly awaiting Sweeny Todd, though I have to admit Michael Ball as Sweeny gives me massive pause. I just can't imagine him in the role at all, though I admit this is a personal performance-based wariness I have towards him that was already massively disproved by his brilliance in Hairspray a few years ago..

Anyway its going to have to be pretty damn good as the last show I saw was the RSC's Matilda, which was the best musical I have seen on stage in about 10 years (SRSLY... possibly since the last time I saw Sweeny actually..). A high bar has now been set for 2012

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Yes, intend to see Sweeney Todd here in London and will report back!

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

The director of the production made it his mission to play Carrie as an earnest story of fitting in in modern times rather than a horror story about a girl whose telekinetic abilities are uncorked in a traumatic and humiliating moment of growing up. Be thankful that anyone was willing to resurrect this for real--not with bootleg audio and poorly scanned scores (not that I have a collection or anything)--so that future productions could try to bring in more of the camp and glory. Even the novel is campy at times. Why hide that?

The 80's feel is still a problem, but that's nothing a good set of orchestrations can't fix. All acoustic instruments and a bit of reworking of the power ballad structure and those songs would sound fresh. It doesn't help that the new songs are basically songs that were cut during the original workshop and not looked at again until this production.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Nat, I am trying to get tickets for Sweeney Todd, will email you thoughts if / when I see it :)

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRamification

I didn't see the movie "Kinky Boots", but I'm fascinated by the idea that the musical has music by Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein. What's *that* work relationship like? Can season two of "Smash" be about that?

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDS
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