Man in Chair presents

Man in Chair presents Carrie

Carrie, one of the most notorious flops of all time is back on stage. Will she have better luck this time around?

Imagine a musical with a higher body count than Les Miserables. But instead of running 25 years, Carrie didn’t even play 25 performances. Capitalized at $7 million, making it one of the most expensive musicals of its day, Carrie opened 12 May 1988, after 16 previews, and closed 15 May 1988 after a further five performances.

So what went wrong? The show has been analysed closely over the years and is now back in the spotlight with the new off-Broadway production opening last week. A benchmark for Broadway flops, due in equal measure to its expense and its notorious subject matter, the title was kept alive with Ken Mandelbaum’s 1992 litany of disasters: Not Since Carrie.

A four-week out-of-town try-out in Stratford-upon-Avon, England saw Broadway legend Barbara Cook, playing Carrie’s mother, nearly decapitated by the set on opening night. She promptly quit, but stayed for the remainder of the England dates. Those who have seen the 1976 movie, the first of many to be based on a Steven King novel, will no doubt remember the bucket of blood tipped on poor Carrie’s head at prom. Thick sticky liquid and head mikes don’t mix, so the action had to change to blood being thrown at Carrie.

That blood thrown at Carrie, which leads to the deadly finale in which she kills every student and teacher at her school, is not the first blood of the show. The horror of high school is established early on when Carrie has her first period in the girls’ shower after PE. There is basically one character left alive at the end of the show: Carrie’s friend Sue comforts Carrie as she dies at the end of the show, stabbed by her mother whom she subsequently kills.

Writers Lawrence D. Cohen, Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford lay a good deal of the blame for the disastrous flop with English director Terry Hands of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The offer from RSC to produce the show was too good to turn down but the English were, of course, unfamiliar with American teen culture, not even knowing what a prom was. Hands stripped out dialogue, creating a ‘classical tragedy’ with costumes more like Greece than Grease.

Apparently some reviews were not too bad, but the one that really closed the show was the review by Frank Rich of the New York Times. Rich lamented, amongst many other aspects, the dancing, blood-smeared chorus that opens act two: “when was the last time you saw a Broadway song and dance about the slaughtering of a pig? They’ve got one to open Act II of Carrie, and no expense has been spared in bringing the audience some of the loudest oinking this side of Old McDonald’s Farm.”

Fellow Broadway legend Betty Buckley replaced Cook for the New York season. Buckley had played teacher Miss Collins in the film version of Carrie before playing religious zealot Margaret White on stage. This time around, Carrie’s strict, domineering mother is played by the wonderful Marin Mazzie, original Mother of Ragtime and star of the glorious 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate.

Young actress Molly Ranson plays the title character, originally played by 17-year-old Linzi Hateley. What ever happened to her?

Tickets for the return staging have reportedly already sold well in advance, a sign of the theatre community’s fascination with the show perhaps, with an extension already announced before last week’s opening night. Longer-term success may be on hold, however, with another negative review from the Times. Man in Chair plans to see the production in April so stay tuned for first hand reports…

Have a look behind the scenes look at the new production of Carrie:

Man In Chair previously presented:

Pal Joey


The Pirate Queen

All Shook Up


Death Takes A Holiday

Photos: #1 Hateley/Ranson: Peter Cunningham/Sara Krulwich; #2 Mazzie/Ranson: Sara Krulwich; #3 Buckley/Ranson: Peter Cunningham; #4 Mazzie/Ranson: Bruce Glikas

This article was published on Theatre People on 6 March 2012.

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