first novel, Carrie, was an inauspicious debut
before United Artists decided to make a film version and
hired avant-garde director Brian DePalma to turn it into
a blockbuster. The movie was a huge hit, made movie stars
out of its mostly rookie cast, gave two of them (Sissy
Spacek and Piper Laurie) Academy Award nominations, and
went down in the books as a horror classicone of
those few films made in the late 1970s that used
the pop schmaltz of the era to startling effect.
A decade later, a group
of men including Carrie screenwriter Lawrence D.
Cohen adapted the story into a sprawling Broadway musical.
Five performances and $8 million later, the show shut
down, and the name "Carrie" became synonymous with every
theater investors worst nightmare.
Stephen Kings Carrie
tells the tale of high school pariah Carrie White, whose
daily tribulations reach a disturbing peak when she has
her first menstrual period in the gym shower room and
thinks that shes dying. The girls pelt Carrie with
tampons, chanting, "Plug it up! Plug it up!" Carrie is
sent home, where she is scolded by her abusive, religious
fanatic of a mother, who equates her budding womanhood
Her period awakens her
telekinetic ability. As her powers grow, she continues
to defy her mother and even accepts an invitation to the
high school prom. As she is crowned the Prom Queen she
falls victim to a cruel prank: a bucket of pigs
blood is dumped on her head. Humiliated, she uses her
power to destroy the school and almost everyone in it.
Then she goes home, kills her mom, and dies.
It certainly wasnt
The Sound of Music, but dark material had been
at the heart of many successful musicals, including The
Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Moreover,
the DePalma film was essentially high opera, complete
with over-the-top characters like Carries mother,
larger-than-life villains (played by Nancy Allen and John
Travolta), and a wild, shrieking, almost human-sounding
musical score by Pino Donaggio.
Having cut his teeth on
such operatic thrillers as The Phantom of the Paradise
and Sisters, DePalma nailed the comic book
tone of Carrie, delicately riding that razor-thin
edge between comedy and horror. Unfortunately, as much
as DePalma was able to elevate Carrie to high opera,
the theater version was unable to bring the story back
down to Earth.
Betty Buckley, who played
the role of Carries mother in the musical (and who,
incidentally, played the kindly gym teacher in the DePalma
film), remembers the opening night this way: as both she
and Carrie die and the lights go out, the entire theater
began to boo. Then, as the actors stood to flee the stage,
the boos transformed into a standing ovation.
This schizophrenic reaction
is consistent with the reviews and perhaps would have
turned the show into a cult hit had it been a more humble
Off-Broadway production. However, in spite of its short
run (or perhaps because of it), the musical version of
Carrie quickly became the stuff of legend, and
to this day, the producers receive "three or four offers
a month" to try it again in different versions. There
are several fan websites, many of which have managed to
find audio files of those rare performances.
These audio files instantly
reveal some of the weaknesses of Carrie. Aside
from a few pretty ballads, the material is 1980s-style
rock, which doesnt lend itself well to the materials
tragic, Shakespearean bent. The lyrics try for a gritty
edge and end up sounding silly: "Why dont they remember
that Im Carrie White?/Is it any harder to remember
than/Goddamn toad and crazy and weird and dumb bitch?"
Or, even worse, later in
the same song: "I am the sound of distant thunder!/The
color of flame!/Im Carrie!/I am the song of endless
wonder that no one will claim!" New York Daily News
theater critic Howard Kissel wrote this after the May
12, 1988 debut: "For me, the high point of the lyrics
was rhyming attitude with Ive
Although few photographs
exist, the general consensus is that the set designa
spare, white box featuring cardboard cutouts like you
might see at a high school playwas terrible. The
choreography was also shockingly bad, featuring, in the
opening scene, dozens of girls clad only in shower towels
dancing around the shower room like they were in Porkys:
The Musical or, at least, an X-rated version of Fame.
In fact, the makers of Carrie: The Musical had
also created the movie Fame, as well as the recent
Broadway hit Footloose. (And although Footloose
and Carrie share many thematic similarities, the
producers did their best not to mention the dreaded "C"
These days, Stephen King
fans are abuzz with the news of Kings latest plans
to invade the stage. The best-selling horror author is
collaborating with rocker John Mellencamp on an untitled
horror musical, loosely described as a ghost story about
a family staying in a cabin haunted by the ghosts of their
dead relatives, each of whom will sing in a way that is
consistent with their era. Says Mellencamp, "When the
18-year-old sings, hell be rapping at you. When
people in the 70s are singing, theyll be singing
in the style of Broadway."
Even if this sounds a little,
well, risky, King and Mellencamp profess to be unconcerned.
"Mistakes will occur," assures Mellencamp. "But thats
part of the fun of it."