By Patrick Christiano
The stunning new production of the musical Carrie is a cause for celebration, a beautiful sung, riveting evening of theater with two glorious performances at the center. The original 1988 show may be the most infamous Broadway musical flop ever, playing just 21 performances and becoming an instant cult classic when on opening night at curtain call the cast was greeted with boos, rousing cheers and ultimately a standing ovation. The critics savaged the production, but Carrie lives again Off Broadway returning to the stage in a thrilling remounting directed by Stafford Arima for the well respected MCC Theater.
The musical is based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel about an awkward teenage girl with telekinesis that was made into Brian De Palma’s break out 1976 film, a classic horror starring Sissy Spacek, before being adapted into the 1988 Broadway musical, which many consider the zenith of camp, even inspiring the book “Not Since Carrie.”
Gone are the special effects and the laser lights; instead of spectacle, the new revival is toned way down to chilling effect. The book by Lawrence D. Cohen has been extensively rewritten, and now the story is set today in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine 2012. The dramatic tension has been exposed revealing intense portraits of emotional extremes.
The first act is utter perfection and the two leads are phenomenal. If the second act doesn’t hold up as well (the final scenes could be bloodier) and the actors playing the students are rather generic, lacking the raging hormones that were apparent in the young actors from American Idiot, but they are still serviceable and the evening is remarkable under the swift effective direction by Stafford Arima.
The show’s original writers joined forces with Arima to create a fully reworked and re-imagined vision of this gripping story turning it into a modern-day tale of bullying, a cautionary story of high school cruelty. Carrie White is a shy misfit at school where she is an outcast bullied by the popular group, while at home she is at the mercy of her loving, yet over-protective religious fanatic mother. The action is set in motion when Carrie gets her period in gym class and is freaked out because she doesn’t know what has happened to her.
The teasing taunts of the other girls awaken her dormant telekinetic powers and she is not afraid to use them. They will be fully unleashed at that prom in a vengeful response to a malicious humiliation by her classmates.
Powerfully acted and intensely sung, the quiet scenes between the plain title character and her demented mother are the most compelling. Molly Ranson is a beautifully repressed yet controlled Carrie, and Marin Mazzie as the mother is deeply moving, even sinister. Their harmonies are fantastic and their songs have an authentic eerie quality that brings out all the dramatic elements of the music.
The new revival is closer to what the original creators had in mind 30 years ago, a story about outsiders. To that end the original composers, Academy Award winners Michael Gore (music) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics), removed several songs and replaced them with new wonderfully appealing pop-rock songs.
The new production sold out before opening on March 1 and has already been extended. Carrie lets you know in the opening number that the title character is not the only one worrying about being a misfit when a gang of kids sings “life doesn’t begin until you fit in,” reminding us all of our human need to feel connections
Cast: Marian Mazzie, Molly Ranson, Christy Altomare, Carmen Cusack, Jeanna de Waal, Derek Klena, Ben Thompson, Wayne Wilcox, Corey Boardman, Blair Goldberg, F. Michael Haynie, Andy Mientus, Elly Noble, and Jen Sese
Carrie began previews on January 31, 2012 and opened on March 1, 2012 at The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street in the West Village. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or mcctheater.org.
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