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.
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.