Wednesday, February 29, 2012

theatre review CARRIE, THE MUSICAL, Off Broadway, February 28

For almost 24 years I've been waiting to see another production of the musical Carrie.  I saw the original 1988 Broadway production which was notorious for closing as soon as it opened and losing millions of dollars and basically loved every minute of it (read all about my analysis of that production and the musical in my previous blog post).  Sure, some of the 1988 Broadway production was horrifically bad but many parts of it were wonderful in their beauty and how they were amazingly imagined.   The three creators of that musical have never let anyone perform the show since then, so there was really no way for anyone to fully experience the show until now.  Instead, they've spent the past few years revising the material, trying to fix what was wrong back in 1988.  We went to the "preview" of some of the new material last August, where the three creators and director of this new production spoke about the revised version of the show.  Read about that night in my blog post here. So, I knew going in that this wasn't going to be the same experience it was 24 years ago, but would it actually be better or worse with the added years and the tinkering to the music and script?   So, it was with much excitement but also some hesitation that we went down to the Village last night to see the new, revised, production of Carrie.

For those who haven't read the Stephen King novel that the musical is based on or haven't seen the 1970's movie that featured Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her mother, Carrie tells the tale of a shy 17 year old girl.  She is a loner, an outsider who is picked on at school and has an extremely religious mother who basically keeps her sheltered.  When Carrie realizes she has telekinetic powers, she uses them to get back at all of those who have wronged her with the story culminating at the prom, the most sacred of high school events for the popular kids.  "A Cinderella story with a vengeance" as one of the creators calls it.

Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson
 The original 1988 Broadway production was basically called one of the worst musicals ever.  And with minimal story telling, ill conceived costumes, some fairly bad choreography, a couple of truly bad songs and a set design that included an unexplained giant white staircase in the finale, it was easy to see why.  There was an earlier workshop of the first act of the musical in 1984 that was more effective in telling this story.  Unfortunately many of the good elements of that workshop were gone by the time the show got to Broadway and the director and producers of that production made so many changes for the worse.

It is extremely interesting that this production has done an almost complete 180 on two key elements when comparing this production to the original Broadway one.  The 1988 production was all about choreography and had very minimal dialogue with relatively no scenes that weren't musicalized.  This production has almost no choreography (and trust me, it isn't missed) and adds valuable dialogue scenes that bring considerable weight to the story.  Many things that weren't explained in 1988 are well thought out and portrayed now.  Carrie's powers being one of the key elements that is now more effectively shown, with a natural beginning that shows Carrie discovering her powers and then honing them.  Also, good girl Sue, who is really the only kid who tries to help Carrie, has much more to do now and by having her basically tell us the story in flashback, it is a much easier way to get us into the plot as well as to help us better understand what Sue, and the other kids, were thinking at the time of the events shown in the musical.
Ranson at the Prom

Many elements from the 1984 workshop production have fortunately been put back into this production.  These include the aforementioned dialogue scenes, including a much more effective act one finale that is almost word for word what it was back in the 1984 workshop.  This act one ending provides a chilling and exciting end to the first act.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised with what the creators have been able to achieve with this new production.  Now, not everything works, and perhaps the show isn't as "scary" or "dangerous" as it could be, but with two key actresses in the lead roles and an imaginative production, the themes of outsiders, bullies and the religiously lost are front and center. The songs that were on the bad side back in 1988 are gone and the new ones are quite good, I even liked the many new lyrics that have been added.  The costumes are perfect too.  This is a good musical, finally.  One that I think will actually get some good reviews. 

So, as you can tell, this production isn't at all like the original.  The creators have revised about 1/2 of the music, including adding many new songs, added new scenes and a new framing device.  All of which results in a far better show.  Director Stafford Arima is to be commended for his ability to not only mold the material into the effective musical that it is but also to get the three original creators excited enough about the show after twenty years to write new music, lyrics and dialogue and to really rethink the whole piece.  Those three creators are Michael Gore who wrote the music, Dean Pitchford, lyrics and Lawrence D. Cohen who wrote the book.  We actually saw Gore and Pitchford at the show last night, so it is nice to see them still involved with the production even when it must be pretty much in its final format since it officially opens tomorrow night.

Molly Ranson as Carrie is a jaw dropper.  She so perfectly plays the part that you can't help feel her pain with all of the rotten things the other kids are saying and doing to her.  Ranson wrings every nuance out of the role as well.  She perfectly gets the shy, sheltered kid who is fearful of the kids at school as well as her mother.  The way she looks at good guy Tommy with love in her eyes but how she is always so cautious when speaking to anyone who she thinks is really trying to trick her, perfectly portray a person we all knew growing up.  When she transforms herself before going to the prom into an exceedingly beautiful girl, you can't help but feel for her, especially if you know what is going to happen to her once she gets to the prom.  She also has a pretty amazing and powerful voice that is effectively used throughout the show.

Carrie gets a little crazy in the high school gymnasium
 Marin Mazzie is playing Carrie's religious mother Margaret as more of a calm, completely in control character then the crazy religious fanatic we've seen before.  When Carrie begins to challenge her control, Mazzie expertly plays the part of a woman who doesn't know where to turn when she no longer has the upper hand.  Mazzie's delivery of her act two solo "When There's No One" is one of the most amazing, theatrical and painfully raw arias in a musical, ever.  I actually connected with the character of Margaret for the first time when hearing this song last night, something I didn't do when Betty Buckley sang this in the original Broadway production.  And I am a huge Buckley fan, so that is really saying something!

The rest of the cast was fairly good, no major pluses or minuses.  While most of the actors looked slightly older than the high school aged kids they were portraying, they all managed to pull off their parts effectively. 

Mazzie and Ranson- note the use of projections for
windows to turn the back wall into Carrie's home.

Design wise the show is very good.  A simple set design by David Zinn that uses various doors and platforms is effective, even with minimal furniture pieces it perfectly evokes the various locales of the show.  I especially liked the traditional gymnasium doors at the back of the stage that were expertly used at the end of the prom sequence.  Lighting by Kevin Adams helps very well in the scene changes and making the space become other settings.  The use of projections by Sven Ortel, especially during the prom sequence is very effective.  Sound design is also top notch, with clear consistent sound throughout as well as some extremely eerie moments at the opening, a nicely done storm sequence at the end of the first act and a really effective use of sounds, both lovely and horrifying during the prom scenes.

The high school kids
Downsides to the show would be the choreography in the opening sequence, which was somewhat rudimentary and too stylized.   The small cast, while effective in most of the scenes was somewhat of a letdown during the prom when there were only five couples there.  I can't completely fault this production for that though, since it is an Off Broadway production and the cast for this show is somewhat large for Off Broadway.  But a scene like a prom, that should have many people there just doesn't come across that well with a very small cast.  I also think a better ending would have helped really connect us with this story.   As it is now is ends with the focus on Sue, not on Carrie where it should be.

The very bloody finale
Still there are some very effective and wonderful moments happening at the Lucille Lortel Theatre with this production of Carrie.  Those who loved the camp value of the 1988 production will be disappointed as pretty much any moments that got unintentional laughter are gone and everything is portrayed in a straight forward fashion.  Many of the iconic images from the film and those we've imagined from the book are on display here.   Just the image in this show of Carrie returning from the prom, in her blood soaked dress is one I won't soon forget.

Carrie which was originally only running through the end of March has now been extended to April 22nd.  I'm sure if the reviews are good it will be extended again, or might even possibly move to an open run at another Off Broadway house.  I just hope that this production will get an official cast recording and that the creators will finally release performance rights to the show.  I'm sure if they do there will be many productions of this out there -even in a more PG-13 rated high school version, and I think those productions are ones that could clearly drive home the themes that Carrie is all about, especially when performed in an actual high school.

Official Show Site

Highlights from two of the songs:

Clips from several songs including part of "When There's No One"  -

Interviews with the creators and Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson:

Christy Altomare and Derek Klena perform one of the new songs "You Shine":

No comments:

Post a Comment