Tuesday, August 2, 2011

theatre review - Revisiting Carrie - Off Broadway, August 1

Last night we attended the one night only event entitled Revisiting "Carrie."  Now most people know about my fascination with the musical Carrie, (see my previous post about it here) and last night's event has gotten me very excited about the upcoming Off Broadway production that begins performances in January.  Subtitled "A Behind the Scenes Discussion with Song Selections," the evening featured about 55 minutes of discussion with the creative team and about 25 minutes of performance selections.   

Based on the popular novel by Steven King, Carrie tells the story of a teenage misfit who is bullied at her high school and at home has to deal with her religiously over protective mother.  When Carrie realizes she has special powers she uses them to get back at those who put her down. "A Cinderella story with a vengeance" is how one of the creators summarized it.

The original production of Carrie on Broadway in 1988 closed just a few performances after it opened, but the material, the performances and most of the score left a memory for those who saw it that they simply can't forget.  It was nice to see this mentioned last night by the director for the upcoming production Stafford Arima.  He saw the original Broadway production when he was just 19 and the memories from it stuck with him for years.  

Molly Ranson is "Carrie"
The evening started off with the revised opening number "In."  Originally this was sung just by the high school girls in their gym class but has been completely reworked to feature the boys and girls and it features some amazing vocal harmonies, cleaner lyrics and completely sets up the importance of being in the "in" crowd at high school.  A clear step in the right direction from what opened the show in 1988.   We were next introduced to the creative team by Bernie Telsey, an artistic director for MCC, the Off Broadway theatre company that is producing the upcoming production.   Book writer Lawrence D. Cohen, music writer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford were joined on stage by Arima, and the four of them had a lively discussion about the musical that Telsey moderated.   Other songs from the show were performed throughout the evening and several questions were taken from the audience as well.

Having the three creators of the musical talking about how the original musical came to be and how the past 23 years have made them look at the material and think about it differently was great.  They discussed the original novel, the various workshops the production had, the involvement of the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as how director Stafford Arima reached out to them through his agent three years ago about looking at the piece in a new light.   That phone call resulted in an 8 hour meeting with the four gentlemen that got the musical moving through a two year development process where everything about the original production was discussed, torn apart and put back together again.  Pitchford said that they all re-read the novel and in doing so realized that the novel's extremely effective in telling the story even though it is not told in a linear fashion.  Rather the novel uses yearbook comments, police reports, diary entries and personal accounts of the events to tell the story in a "mosaic" fashion, something they realized they hadn't done with the original version, which was told in a simple linear way.  They didn't say if they've now changed the show to be less linear, but from the ending of one of the songs we heard performed, it does appear that the show will now be told in flashback. 

Marrin Mazzie is Carrie's mom
They also discussed that while they had originally thought to keep the show set in the early 1980's, they've since realized that the events in the story, especially those around bullying, are so prominent today that they've decided to set the story in present time.  Something Pitchford said required them to go back and change details in every aspect of the show - book, music, lyrics, direction, sets, costumes and choreography.  But, they all agreed that in doing so, it makes the piece stronger.  I have to say that the modern vocal arrangements by Ann Marie Milazzo we heard for "In" were so amazing that I'm glad they made this decision.

Gore commented that 10 of the original songs from the 1988 show are no longer in the new version.   I'm not certain if he meant that they are completely gone or just no longer in their original form - as "In" still had the same melody but has about 75% new lyrics and arrangements and the title song "Carrie" - performed by Molly Ranson is about 50% the same as it was originally.  We did get a completely new song "You Shine" performed by "good girl" Sue (Christy Altomare) and Tommy (Derek Klena), which replaces the solo song Sue had in the original production, ''It Hurts To Be Strong."  And the evening ended with Ranson and Marin Mazzie who plays her mom, Margaret, singing their song when Carrie is leaving for the prom, as well as Margaret's act two solo "When There's No One" - both of which are virtually unchanged from the way they were heard in 1988.  Ranson and Mazzie were extremely effective in both their songs and dialogue scenes and the ensemble sounded great as well.  I'm not certain if the cast we saw last night, beyond Ranson and Mazzie, will be the cast we see come January, but if it is, I think we're in good hands.

The poster design for the 1988
Broadway production
While hearing the songs was the big highlight of the evening, there was also a very interesting discussion about the choice of Terry Hands as the director of the 1988 production as well as some of the directors who were first approached about directing the original production.  Both Mike Nichols and Bob Fosse had discussions with Gore, Pitchford and Cohen, with Fosse wanting to take the show into a dark place that was darker than any of the three creators wanted to go.  It was mentioned that the one musical Hands directed before Carrie was one in the UK that both Gore and Pitchford left at intermission, but with his success in directing plays with the RSC and the RSC's decision to fast track the musical into a production at their Stratford Upon Avon home, made them think he was right for the job.  He was a "gentlemen" and had a nice accent as well, they mentioned.  It wasn't until they were deep into rehearsals that they realized he wasn't the right choice.  

Pitchford also commented that when you are three people doing a Broadway show for the first time you should surround yourself with veterans who have experience in something you're new to.  With Carrie, Cohen, Gore, Pitchford, Hands and choreographer Debbie Allen were all making their Broadway musical theatre creative debut.

So, all in all, a very interesting and engaging evening that will hopefully get some good buzz generated for this production.  Though the fact that this one night only event sold out fairly quickly and that there is still so much discussion about this show, I highly doubt this evening was necessary to sell more tickets than they would have sold without it.  

I might be getting ahead of myself since previews haven't even started yet, but I truly believe that this production will be a success and will finally result in a recording of the music that so many people have been dying to have in their possession.  I also believe that the fact that this is being done Off Broadway, with a smaller cast and orchestra compared to the 1988 production, will mean that the profitability and future life of the show will be stronger, as many regional theatres would be able to put this production on due to a lower cost base compared to the previous production that had a cast with 10 more members.
MCC subscriptions are on sale now, which is the only current way to get tickets to this show, with single tickets for Carrie going on sale in October.  January can't get here fast enough!

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