Monday, March 21, 2011

"Flops!" - CARRIE

#3 in my flop musical series.

Carrie is one of the most talked about of all flop musicals.   But unlike other flops like Merrily We Roll AlongAnyone Can Whistle and The Baker's Wife - Carrie was never professionally recorded, so, for now, the only memories of this show are in the production photos, the memories of the people who actually saw it, a few Youtube clips (see below) and the three songs that have been professionally recorded by solo artists.
A musicalized version of the infamous Stephen King novel was begun in the early 80's by Michael Gore (music) Dean Pitchford (lyrics) and Lawrence D. Cohen (book).  Cohen had written the screenplay for the highly successful screen adaptation.   The story of Carrie is a fairly simple one, shy teenage girl with a religious mother discovers she has telekinetic powers and uses them to get back at the kids who were mean to her as well as her mother.

August 1984 Workshop:      
A workshop of the first act of Carrie was performed in 1984 at a rehearsal space in New York City.  At this time the show was a more realistic adaptation of the novel and screenplay - with many scenes set at the school including the scene in the principal's office.   There was much more dialogue and Carrie's special powers were clearly shown and demonstrated.  Unfortunately by the time it got to Broadway -most of these elements would be gone.    
Workshop cast: CARRIE - Annie Golden; MARGARET – Maureen McGovern; MISS GARDNER -Laurie Beechman; SUE - Laura Dean; CHRIS - Liz Callaway; TOMMY - Todd Graff; BILLY - Peter Neptune   

1988 UK & Broadway Productions:
It then took more than three years for a production of the show to happen.  The Royal Shakespeare Company co-produced the musical with German producer Friedrich Kurz at the RSC Stratford Upon Avon, UK home in February 1988.  The show had strong sales but didn't get strong reviews. 17 year old newcomer Linzi Hateley played "Carrie." Barbara Cook who played the role of her mother, "Margaret" left the production after the Stratford run and was replaced by Betty Buckley for Broadway.  The show opened in New York on May 12, 1988 at the Virginia Theatre and closed after five performances, losing $8 million dollars. 

Hateley and Cook
The show was somewhat of a reunion of people associated with the film and tv show Fame.   Gore and Pitchford who won an Oscar for the title song from the film, wrote the score for Carrie, Debbie Allen who starred in both the film and the tv show of Fame, choreographed the musical and Gene Anthony Ray who played “Leroy” in Fame, played bad boy “Billy” in Carrie.   The fact that Gore, Pitchford and Allen had no previous experience in creating a Broadway musical and that the director Terry Hands was more familiar directing Shakespeare tragedies, shows that perhaps a more seasoned creative team is what was needed to bring this somewhat hard to musicalize story to life. The Broadway tagline was simply "There's Never Been a Musical Like Her" and boy was that an understatement!

Does this look like any high school gym class you ever attended?

     Many people will tell you why they felt Carrie did not succeed on Broadway.  Some will say that the story was never one that should have been musicalized.  Others will say that the mother / daughter scenes proved that the story was musical worthy, just check out the YouTube clips below, but that the other scenes were simply not up to the level of these other moments.  Some say the book left out major points - never fully explaining or showing Carrie's telekenetic powers and it had an anti-climactic confusing ending.  Others point to the costumes, choreography, set and direction as elements that were below Broadway standards.

Buckley and Hateley - the Act One Closer - Carrie shoots fire from
her hands with no previous explanation - think someone forgot that
they were supposed to be telling a story here!

But no matter what one's opinion is as to why the show failed, one thing is very clear - there was something that happened on the stage of the Virginia Theatre that would keep people talking and wondering about a show that ran for less than three weeks for years to come.

The show's finale- Hateley, doused in blood from the
trick the kids played on her at the prom, kills her mother
who just stabbed her then slowly walks down the stairs
and dies in Sue's arms.
The show was such a huge notable flop that it inspired the title of Ken Mandelbaum's 1991 book “Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops.”
For many years there had been talk of a concert version of the show.  Although two songs were performed to an enthusiastic response at Betty Buckley's 1996 Carnegie Hall Concert - a concert of the entire show has never happened.  As far as professional recordings go, Buckley recorded “When There’s No One” – her act two solo on her “Children Will Listen” cd; Linzi Hateley recorded “Carrie” on her “Sooner or Later” recording and Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner recorded “Unsuspecting Hearts” on their cd of the same name.

While there has not yet been an official revival of the show, there have been a few productions done unofficially, all making some changes to the show to try to improve it.  Finally, it now looks like we will get a revival of the show.  This past October it was announced that the MCC theatre group in New York City would be presenting a revised production of the show in their 2011-2012 season at their off-Broadway house, the Lucille Lortel theatre.   There was a workshop of the revised show performed in Dec. 2009 with Stafford Arima as the director and Marin Mazzie as “Margaret.”   About ½ of the original score was still in place for the 2009 workshop, with some of the other songs from 1988 reworked or replaced.  Many of the scenes from the 1984 workshop were back for the 2009 workshop, so it does seem like the creators have realized what needed to be fixed and hopefully this smaller, intimate version of the show will actually happen and be a success.

The show even got a drawing in the New York Times Arts and Leisure section by the famous artist Al Hirschfield!   The drawing features from the left, Darlene Love as the gym teacher, "Mrs. Gardner," Linzi Hateley as "Carrie" and Betty Buckley as "Margaret."

I was fortunate enough to have actually seen the show, on May 3, 1988.  It is a memory I’ll never forget.  

My ticket stub from 1988 - only $25 from the 1/2 price TKTS booth!

"And Eve Was Weak" from Broadway
-Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley

Carrie the Musical special feature from the Carrie the movie dvd - 
Broadway Press Reel clip of "Evening Prayers" - Buckley and Hateley

TV commercial for the Broadway musical -

Amazon link for the film on dvd - Carrie (Special Edition)

Amazon link for the novel - Carrie

Amazon link for the Betty Buckley cd Children Will Listen that contains "When There's No One" - Children Will Listen

Amazon link for Ripley/ Skinner cd- Unsuspecting Hearts - Unsuspecting Hearts


  1. In the 1988 version, Miss Gardner was played NOT by Debbie Allen (paragraph 6 above) but by Darlene Love.

  2. Thanks for pointing out my mistake. I meant to say that Allen choreographed the show and I've now updated that sentence. Thanks again for posting your comment!

  3. Thank you - I enjoyed reading this. I, too, saw Carrie (with a half-price TKTS ticket) and I still have my ticket stub. It is, indeed, a cherished piece of memorabilia! A few weeks after the show closed, I was able to obtain a bootleg recording of the entire show on two cassette tapes. I was so happy to get the wonderful music.