Are you ready for “Carrie, the musical”?
Broadway wasn’t, back in 1988, when the gory tuner based on a horror novel by Stephen King premiered with buckets of stage blood on hand.
Now King’s indelibly ghoulish pubescent revenge fantasia is back.
A remake of Brian De Palma’s sly 1976 cult-classic film opens in local movie theaters on Oct. 18.
And the much-maligned musical about the shy, fearful teen outcast Carrie White, who becomes an incendiary avenger after being subjected to a monstrous high-school prank, will open in Seattle this weekend at the Moore Theatre.
Balagan Theatre’s production features talented young Seattle-Broadway actress Keaton Whittaker as Carrie and Tony Award winner (for “Next to Normal”) Alice Ripley as Carrie’s scary, religious-fanatic Mommy dearest.
Fans of the movie may have some difficulty envisioning a live, song-and-dance Carrie getting slimed with pig’s blood at her school prom — or, for that matter, a nude Carrie being bullied onstage in a gym shower by her mean-girl peers.
“I asked myself, ‘Is this going to be anything but weird?’ ” confided Ripley, who was invited to play the standout role of Carrie’s mother in Seattle by her friend and “Next to Normal” Broadway co-star Louis Hobson. Hobson is now artistic head of Balagan Theatre, and he is directing the musical in its Seattle premiere.
“I’ve come to see the show as the exact opposite of weird, as a love story,” Ripley continued. “And it is really exciting how Louis is approaching this, like raw material that’s never been done before. I think people are going to be surprised by it.”
Ripley means that in a good way, as compared to the critical pounding “Carrie, the musical” faced in its surprising Broadway debut. Labeling the show “a disaster,” Frank Rich of The New York Times compared it to the crash of the Hindenburg.
New York Daily News critic Howard Kissel wrote that the ensemble of fresh-faced suburban teen characters looked like they’d “just come off a rough bus-and-truck tour playing the hookers in ‘Sweet Charity,’ ’’ and his review was headlined: “Don’t ‘Carrie’ Me Back to Ol’ Virginny.”
“Carrie, the musical” ran for just five official performances and inked a record Broadway production loss of $8 million. It was so notorious, it inspired the title of Ken Mandelbaum’s juicy book, “Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Flops.”
The coup de grâce? Mandelbaum called it the real-life equivalent of “Springtime for Hitler” — the fake Nazi musical in the Mel Brooks movie “The Producers.” Yet unlike the Brooks show, it wasn’t meant to lose a fortune.
Composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and book author Lawrence D. Cohen have long been eager to revise their show. Two decades later they got the chance to make it more than a leader in the annals of theatrical catastrophe, and in 2012 their revamped version opened Off Broadway.
This time, they cut that Act 2 opening number about pig slaughter and pushed the setting forward to the present day. Though elements of the reworked score won praise, this more earnest, less-campy makeover did not wow today’s New York critics. It, too, shuttered after a brief run.
But like that bloodthirsty count from Transylvania, Carrie keeps on rising from the dead. The new film is being widely hyped. And during this Halloween season alone, “Carrie, the musical” will be presented at two dozen theater companies, high schools and colleges around the U.S.
In Seattle it’s up to Hobson and his cast, aided by effects created by the top-notch lighting designer Tom Sturge, to put their stamp on the well-known tale. Hobson says he is “striving for simplicity and authenticity” in his staging. And Ripley is approaching her role of the demented mother Margaret (played in the film by the Oscar-nominated Piper Laurie) with a measure of seriousness.
“I see Margaret as real,” Ripley said. “She’s got a beating heart, she’s human. Margaret lives in a different world, but everything she does is real to her. She wants to protect Carrie, but they end up destroying each other.”
Ripley, a recording artist in her own right with a new disc (“Ripley Reflects”) on the way, has also bonded with the musical score. “It tells the story, and sets up the big climax, and covers a wide range of genres. The world of Margaret and Carrie sounds more operatic, and the high-school music is more modern pop.”
But if anybody worries that the Grand Guignol aspect of “Carrie” will be ignored, Ripley promises: “The blood will flow.”
And what do those buckets ’o prop blood consist of? It’s a gooey concoction of corn syrup, chocolate syrup and baby shampoo. And bright-red tempera paint.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org