This latest incarnation of the legendarily troubled musical by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, is an entertaining mess – not great, but not awful. Its infamous 1988 Broadway run reportedly had some of the worst problems of tone and taste, in any art form, ever. This new version has solved the problems of taste – the worst moments here are just inept, not truly tasteless – but only partially solved those of tone.
Based on the hit Stephen King book and Brian DePalma film of the same name, Carrie tells the story of the titular high school misfit, an outcast who’s bullied by both the school’s mean girls and her religious nut of a mother. But Carrie’s telekinetic, and this mix of oppression and the supernatural has horrific consequences.
Even in the Broadway flop version, audiences and critics could already see that the scenes between Carrie and her mother Margaret were genuinely riveting music drama, and that’s true here too. Marin Mazzie delivers a Margaret whose turn to religion is an understandable escape from the evils of of an over-sexualized, man-dominated world. Molly Ranson can stand up to Mazzie in the singing department, and manages to make some sense of Carrie’s bruised and buffeted personality, no small feat.
It was the scenes with the high school kids that led to the most egregious lapses in the Broadway production, and they are still problematic here. The opening number “In” was originally sung by only the girls in gym class. It’s now sung by the entire “high school” ensemble, in a tone that suggests the simmering angst of Spring Awakening. It makes more sense as an isolated number now, but still doesn’t properly manage our expectations of what we are about to see.
Because Carrie isn’t particularly about the angst of those kids, it’s about Carrie dealing with their brutal indifference to her angst. The high school scenes and songs veer toward the stereotyped and campy, and are perversely more successful and entertaining when they do so. But bookwriter Lawrence D. Cohen hasn’t intentionally set out in this direction, and his own attitude toward the high school experience is frustratingly ambivalent – not a good attitude to have when working on a story about the most horrific prom ever.
For all that, though, I kept finding myself reflecting on what I would have thought of this had I no knowledge of the show’s notorious history. On those terms, Carrie is an entertaining mixed bag, modestly tuneful and vigorously staged by Stafford Arima. Worth seeing both for its place in musical theatre history, and in its own right as an Off-Broadway diversion.
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