Most people know the story of Carrie, the awkward teenager with a fanatically religious momma. Bullied at school and bewildered by her own, inarticulate isolation, she wreaks telekinetic havoc on the world that has humiliated her. A smash hit movie elevated Stephen King’s original novel into a cult; and after seeing Alban Berg’s opera Lulu at the Metropolitan, the film’s screenwriter thought he saw Carrie’s potential as a musical. It was complex (provided you emphasized the second syllable) with intellectual credibility plus lurid effects. The project took off, gathering major choreographers, librettists, directors and stars. In the end, production money proved as hard to find as a finalized script, until England’s Royal Shakespeare Company (where whole teams of Broadway-accoladed theatrical professionals were in collective residence) premiered it early in 1988.
The transatlantic cast included Darlene Love (original singer of immortal songs like ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘He’s a Rebel’) as ‘the teacher’, but the RSC’s show was a nightmare of script and technical problems. On opening night, Carrie was almost decapitated by falling scenery and, in die key scene, she couldn’t be drenched in pig’s blood without her body-microphone shorting out.
The audience hooted at what they thought was a comedy musical so the laughs were ruthlessly chopped to secure a transfer to Broadway.
Two months later, still with no settled script or staging, Carrie The Musical opened on May 12 1988 in New York. After 15 catastrophic previews, the critics were ready with an official mauling. The audience may have (allegedly) ‘buzzed’, but the official First Night reviews were brutal. After five performances,
Carrie The Musical closed without making a cast soundtrack for later record sales. It lost $8 million, and you can’t even hum it: quite apart from the money, that makes Carrie ‘Broadway’s biggest flop’.
When: May 12 1988
Where: Virginia Theater, New York City, USA
Toll: Recriminations in ‘luwie land’ caused deeply hurt feelings on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition, Carrie’s composer baulked at college and small independent theatre attempts to adapt the musical. Twenty years later, its iconic status as the flop musical has revived interest in new adaptations.
You should know: In 2008, the composer of Carrie The Musical hit a small community theatre with a ‘cease and desist’ order on their homespun, technically illegal production. The theatre promptly reworked the show, adapting songs from the charts and other musicals. It was a huge success under the new title of Telekinesis!