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‘Carrie,’ A New Musical, Opens on Broadway

May 13, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″Carrie″ is not quite bad enough to be good.

This trashy, high-tech pop musical version of Stephen King’s horror novel, which opened Thursday at Broadway’s Virginia Theater, vacillates between seriousness and schlock.

Eventually it settles for schlock, but only after trying to make something important out of King’s blood-drenched drama of a demented, ultra-religious mother and her disturbed, telekinetic daughter. Its high-flying intentions crash.

King’s novel is a story of teen-age vindictiveness and revenge, but it had a clinical, hard-edged quality that escapes the musical. This show would need the lunacy of a Charles Ludlum to cut through King’s hooey and pyschobabble.

What it gets from director Terry Hands is a sobriety that is often unintentionally funny and a cold, glittering production full of stark white scenery, laser beams, hydraulic lifts and enough fake blood to fill the Red Sea. Surprisingly, the special effects are rather tame.

Carrie gets to tele-transport a few small objects like a hairbrush and a pair of shoes, but there’s nothing to suggest the orgy of destruction she conjures up for the musical’s finale.

The story, sketchily adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen, is a Cinderella tale gone sour. Bovine little Carrie White is humiliated at the ball - in this case a high school prom - and turns everybody else into a pumpkin with deadly results.

The girl has been tormented by her female classmates, the oldest-looking high school students this side of Betty and Veronica. They make fun of her innocence, particularly when she has her first menstrual flow during gym class and believes she is dying.

Carrie’s mother is not too keen on her daughter’s sexual awakening either, believing it to be a curse for her own loveless marriage. She keeps urging her daughter to get down and pray. They spend a lot of the evening on their knees.

Mother and daughter get into a big confrontation after Carrie is invited to the prom by Tommy, the school’s most popular boy. Tommy has been put up to this good deed by his girlfriend Sue, who has been feeling guilty about the way she treated Carrie.

That’s not the case with Chris, the meanest girl in town. She plots with her boyfriend to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on Carrie during the prom. That’s the occasion for something called ″Out for Blood,″ which may be the only dance number in Broadway musical history that mimes the slaughtering of a pig.

The dances are the work of Debbie Allen, Broadway’s last Sweet Charity and a star of the television series ″Fame.″ Her choreography is more aerobic than inspired, but then the music she is given to work with doesn’t exactly move. Michael Gore’s melodies are soft rock, soft to the point of mush, while the lyrics by Dean Pitchford, when they can be understood, celebrate the simple-minded.

What gives ″Carrie″ its occasional moments of conviction are the performances of Betty Buckley and an appealing 17-year-old named Linzi Hateley who plays the title role. The girl sings her heart out. Miss Hateley has a warm, strong voice and acts with an authority that belies her experience.

Buckley, as that monster of a mother, matches the young performer’s singing note for note. The best part of the show is their opening duet, entitled ″Open Your Heart.″ You believe them.

After the two leading ladies, the quality of the cast collapses. Former pop star Darlene Love is wasted as the sympathetic gym teacher who befriends Carrie, Paul Gyngell personifies blandness as the girl’s would-be Prince Charming and Charlotte D’Amboise’s villainous Chris borders on parody.

The settings by Ralph Koltai are of the Cecil B. DeMille school, big but not necessarily better, particularly a giant white staircase that materializes for the play’s last scene. Alexander Reid’s costumes, fit for an outer space version of ″Grease,″ are remarkably unflattering, particularly for the women.

But the lighting, done by director Hands, is startling - simple, direct and effective.

That’s something the musical isn’t. For a horror story, the show gets more giggles than screams and can’t touch such Grand Guignol as Stephen Sondheim’s ″Sweeney Todd,″ the ultimate in unnerving song and dance.

″Carrie″ comes to Broadway courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company which tried out the show at its home in Stratford, England, before coming to New York. The cast is half American and half British, a mixture that required special approval from the actors unions in both countries. Maybe next time they will insist on a better show.

Other reviews:

Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote that the film version of ″Carrie″ was ″scary, funny and sexy pulp entertainment″ because it portrayed the material’s ″thrills, wit and post-pubescent sensuality″ well.

″The musical ‘Carrie’ fails in all these areas,″ he concluded.

Howard Kissel in the Daily News wrote that the show ″makes no more sense than 2 1/2 hours of MTV, which, of course, is what it looks like.″

He called the show ″disgusting″ and added: ″There is enough gratuitous vulgarity in ‘Carrie’ that I wouldn’t send a child.″

But in the New York Post, Clive Barnes called the show ″a strong, effective and remarkably coherent piece of terrific total theater. ... a schematic morality play, replete with the forces of good and evil, to say nothing of a cathartic finale of biblical proportions.″

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