Carrie: The Musical, a sordid (funny) history

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Stephen King, the auteur behind 1986’s Maximum Overdrive and the author of such classics as Bag Of Bones, Dreamcatcher and more, is perhaps best well-known for his 1974 novel Carrie, an epistolary novel that centers on the eponymous telekinetic misfit and her religious zealot mother in Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie was, and is, a critics darling, selling over 30,000 copies in its first printing and spawning two feature film adaptations, one feature film sequel, a TV movie and a Broadway musical.

While this cult classic is most associated with the 1976 feature film directed by Brian DePalma starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, right now in Chicago, the Bailiwick Theater Company is staging a revival of the 1988 Broadway musical at Victory Gardens Theater.

Originally developed by Fame‘s Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, the musical production of Carrie was inspired in part, by a 1981 performance of Alan Berg’s Lulu that Gore saw at the Metropolitan Opera House. Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the script for the 1976 feature, also wrote the book for the musical.

The production had brief four-week preview in Stratford-upon-Avon before it headed to Broadway with a young Linzi Hateley in tow as the tortured ingenue, Carrie White. The first Broadway production also starred legendary cabaret singer Barbara Cook and honey-voiced Motown goddess, Darlene Love. Love played gym teacher Mrs. Gardner and Cook played Carrie’s religious fanatic mother, Margaret White.

Through Gore’s operatic ballads, Carrie is painted as a sympathetic character instead of the, “bovine-eyed”, mewing misfit that King wrote her to be. The 1988 production was hailed as the quickest flop in Broadway history, with fans of the novel and film chafing under the rheumy-eyed earnestness of Cohen’s book and the sunny choreography staged by Debbie Allen.

The Broadway production went on to spawn multiple spoofs, including Scarrie! The Musical, which incidentally my cousin Veronica Sheaffer starred in as Sue in 2006.

Come June 1st, Kristen Nathan will be reviewing Bailiwick Theater Company’s revival of Carrie at Victory Gardens for Chicago Literati. Perhaps our culture has changed and become more forgiving to Gore’s adaptation of Carrie. In light of musicals like Wicked that cast the villain as the hero, perhaps Carrie was just ahead of its time.

Carrie: The Musical
May 29 – July 12, 2014
Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater
2433 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Book by Lawrence D. Cohen, Lyrics by Dean Pitchford, Music by Michael Gore
Directed by Collective Member Michael Driscoll
Music Direction by Collective Member Aaron Benham
Choreography by Brigitte Ditmars
Featuring Katherine L. Condit and Callie Johnson