Carrie Gets a Cast Recording…Now What?

Unsurprisingly, a night out at the Lucille Lortel Theater was weird if you stopped by in the last few months. Whether that is a good or bad thing…it is unclear. Bear with me…

Carrie, which ended its run this past Sunday, warped my mind and expectations. Notorious for flopping in the 80’s (it is always the 80s fault) after a handful of performances, the show was revamped with a new book and score. The reception was slightly better – capped off with the announcement the other day that a cast recording is in the making – but this cannot be the end of Carrie for good…or is it?

I went in expecting a camptastic, cheesy B-movie once music was thrown into this age-old tale of bullying the clairvoyant. I left with something that was too freely adapted to be considered Carrie, but I cannot say that I mind because I still had some fun. Not that the original Carrie is unworthy of its fame status – even some 35 years later, it’s a good watch – but the tropiness is inescapable no matter how good Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are.

But yes, Carrie, even with the subject matter, was a good time even though I stand in the minority (which I will explain later). Go figure on that one…the moment they kicked off with the fantastic first number, I was surprised and intrigued. Adapting Carrie as a modern day angst trip, while an obvious idea, works on concept. I may be giving too much credit to the creative, but said opening number, “In,” was genius by having the popular kids (namely, everyone but Carrie) singing about the pressures and difficulties of being a teenager, thusly exposing their hypocrisy when they start bullying Carrie two minutes later.

The show progresses along like the B-movie it is, only to stop for the occasional song. High schoolers, clairvoyance, unreasonably crazy mother, ANGST…you know the drill. I would criticize the show more heavily for this adaptation for being so blatantly derivative, but at least it was not trying to be something it is not. Besides, when the music starts playing, the plot (or kind of character development) moves the story forward like any other musical, some more then others obviously. You cannot resist a production and a great ensemble that refuses to be totally mediocre…because it very easily could have been.

Above all, Molly Ranson was spot-on as Carrie White, nailing each delivery and mannerism right down to her hunched posture and bashfulness in the face of her peers. Girl can sing too; her solo number, “Carrie,” an ode for attention, is basically the “Everything Comes Up Roses” of the show. While it makes no sense (does she want to be on Broadway or something?), she performed it competently, as she did for all of her numbers.

Totally normal, you guys! We're okay here.
The same thing can be said for Marin Mazzie, playing the role of Margaret, a wonderful actress who’s singing can part an ocean. Even if I had no idea what she was singing about or why, she embraces Margaret’s intensity in a subtle way (no, really) and lets her voice do all the talking. When she starts riffing, you can feel her vocals blowing you away…while you are down the block.

The creators of the show tried to add a personality to the faces of the ensemble and with that came a mixed bag. On the one hand, the show had panache when dealing with those “talk-singing” story songs. Above all, “Do Me a Favor” and “A Night We’ll Never Forget,” the latter setting up prom and infamous pig blood contraption, were very well executed. But on the other hand…what is this that we are watching?

Before I lay down the hammer of why this show is problematic and probably done-for, I have one last song worthy of praise. No seriously, the cast recording is inconsistent in style and quality, but there are some great songs. The swoon-worthy gem “Dreamer in Disguise,” sung by Derek Klena as Tommy (who I LOVED), is a short-ish song that does little except add the sensitive side to the stereotypical jock. But who cares…Klena has a sweet voice and gave the performance that was required, even though he was every good guy characteristic wrapped up into one character.

Here’s the shortlist of all of Carrie’s issues that don’t really require much elaboration. The book and dialogue are throwaways, the characters are oddly developed and ultimately expendable and the show travels back and forth between themes and genres, yet does not succeed at anything particular. It is basically a waiting game until the next song begins because that is far and away the best aspect of the show and one that stands on its own.

But the unfortunate kiss of the death of the show is this: Carrie’s appeal is limited to the under-25 crowd. Actually, maybe that is far too generous; I can’t think of any production with a scope so narrow. That is why I think this is the end of the line for Carrie (or at least this production). From its teen-specific themes, dated religion-themes (which I think the religion trend is long assed its expiration date) to the thin quality of the characters, to the pop, rock and balladic music and the overall underwhelming execution…there is no audience for this show as the genre-mix is a MEGA-fail. The show is not scary enough to please horror fans and it is too loosely interpreted for fans of the original to tolerate. It’s not funny or campy enough to earn either of those distinctions and the music tries to be a cross between Spring Awakening and Fame, but comes up short in the High School Musical mode. Granted, I love High School Musical for what it is (judge me; I dare you), but the bottom line is, once you put it all together, Carrie is a convoluted mess that no one is investing anymore money and time in. Sad to say; thems the breaks…

In general, the horror musical is still uncharted territory, let alone the teen horror musical. Oh sure; Sweeney Todd is a fantastic show (and one of my all-time favorites) and there is the occasional cult gem, like Repo: A Genetic Opera and its upcoming companion The Devil’s Carnival (which I am MAJORLY excited for). I also not so secretly want Alan Hewitt’s (a multi-talented musician/composer) Lizzie Borden musical to make the rounds because that just sounds epic and awesome. For that, I can appreciate Carrie for at least being off the beaten path and attempting a genre that few will even mention in a social context. Sure, all of its creative aspects are handled inconsistently in a Glee sort-of way. Yes, the show tries to be so much and winds up being nothing. But I did have fun, flaws in tact, and select songs and the ensemble are deserving of its praise. The production is going to have to step it up if it is ever going to have another run again.

Photo Credit: Discordia 19
Photo Credit: Parc Bench
Photo Credit: JK's Theatre Scene

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