Back in 1988, Fame composer Michael Gore’s musical version of the Stephen King story Carrie became a Broadway legend — for all the wrong reasons. Closing after just five performances, the $8 million production was then Broadway’s costliest flop. Not to mention its bloodiest, with gallons of stage plasma poured out each night (an offstage pig squeal during the ”Out for Blood” number remains a perverse highlight for the handful who saw the original show).
”Out for Blood” is one of several songs that’s been cut from the MCC Theater’s new revival of Carrie, now running at Off Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre through April 22. So has much of the stage blood (the climactic prom scene relies heavily on Kevin Adams’ lighting design). And except for occasional glimmers from Molly Ranson as the telekinetic title character and Jeanna De Waal as ultimate mean-girl Chris Hargensen, much of the camp quality that fans might remember from Stephen King’s novel or Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie has been excised. This virtually bloodless Carrie takes itself very, very seriously, as if trying to elevate the material to the status of Greek tragedy. At times, director Stafford Arima seems to think he’s doing Medea the Musical. It’s not.
This is still Carrie, with its freaky paranormal plot and its underlying themes of fundamentalist Christian repression and female empowerment. As the curly-haired high school outcast, Ranson has a crystal-clear voice and appropriate sense of awkwardness. Marin Mazzie (Ragtime, Kiss Me Kate), as her Bible-thumping mother, has some well-sung solos (including the second-act tearjerker ”When There’s No One”) but remains a dour, one-note presence throughout the show. She’s neither the over-the-top villain you might remember from Piper Laurie’s movie portrayal, nor a fully rounded and flawed victim of her circumstances as this production clearly intends. It doesn’t help that Lawrence D. Cohen’s updated book glosses over some of her backstory (just why did Carrie’s father leave her?) as well as her realization of Carrie’s supernatural powers; her fateful decision to attack Carrie in the final scene seems to derive more from Carrie’s act of rebellion at going to the prom than a desire to rid the world of a devilish force.
There are some feeble attempts to update the story. After Carrie’s locker-room humiliation over her first period, the bully Chris notes, ”Norma’s already posted about it!” And one of the guys (Corey Boardman) makes not-so-subtle eyes for resident jock Tommy Ross (a bland Derek Klena), who’s guilted by his girlfriend, Sue (Christy Altomare), into taking Carrie to the prom. ”Dude, if I’d known you were going to clean up this good, I would’ve taken you instead of what’s-her-name-here,” says George — though moments later he winds up dancing contentedly with what’s-her-name-here in the big prom number anyway.
What’s clear in watching this underwhelming act of theatrical resuscitation is that Carrie is not a great, lost musical. Gore’s pop-rock score is pleasant but not particularly memorable, and Dean Pitchford’s lyrics are a mumble-mouthed jumble (consider this representative sample from the high school-set opening number: ”In is it! / What comes close to that? / Until you’ve been in / You ain’t where it’s at!”). What the show has going for it is the evocative source material, but in stripping the story of its camp value Arima and his team have also robbed it of any sense of fun. C
(Tickets: mcctheater.org/tickets.html or 212-352-3101)