By: Bijou Kruszka
In 1974, Stephen King released his novel ‘Carrie,’ a story detailing the horrific experiences of a teenage girl dealing with high school bullies and an aggressively devout Christian mother. The book quickly became very popular, and its iconic film adaptation in 1976 only boosted its reputation.
Few people would see the source material and think that the obvious next step was a Broadway musical; but Lawrence Cohen, Dean Pitchford, and Michael Gore had a creative vision. They spent years writing it, casting it, and
getting enough money to get it off the ground. By 1984, they had enough of their project to start production.
Cohen, Pitchford, and Gore partnered with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain to begin production of ‘Carrie: the Musical.’ However, since the writers lived in America, they handed off creative control to a British director, Terry Hands. This was where things started to go awry. Miscommunications between the creatives were abundant. The most famous was between Hands and producer Fran Weissler.
When discussing costuming over the phone, Weissler commented that she wanted the high school students to look similar to the classic musical ‘Grease’. Somehow, Hands misinterpreted ‘Grease’ for Greece. Yes, you read that right, Greece, like the country. Hands then made the artistic choice for all the students to wear togas, while doing dances at prom and in gym class.
This only foreshadowed the catastrophes to come.
Another bizarre creative decision was found in the set. The creative team really wanted to highlight the show’s finale, in which Carrie and her mother die. So, they constructed an enormous white staircase for the two to sing their final song on. This staircase took up a significant portion of the $8 million budget, and appears for a mere 10 minutes. These creative decisions were incredibly strange, and would only be a part of the overall failure of ‘Carrie.’
On top of bizarre creative decisions, there were also many technical failures. One way things did not go as planned was the blood. Anyone who is familiar with ‘Carrie’ knows that the most infamous part of the story is when Carrie gets pig blood poured on her after she is crowned prom queen. So, it was a key element in the adaptation. However, with test runs of corn syrup mixtures, it became very clear Carrie could not actually be covered in blood. The mixtures clogged Carrie’s microphone, and would cause all her cast mates to slip and fall. Instead, the creatives opted for a bright red laser light show. Now, Carrie appeared as more of a rockstar than a bullied teen.
Once this light show started to go off, a screen descended from above the stage in order to divide the character Sue, from the rest of the cast. However, this massive screen’s quick descent was automated and couldn’t be controlled easily. This led to multiple near-decapitations.
All these technical problems should have postponed the show’s opening, but unfortunately, the show went on as scheduled.
On May 12, 1989, ‘Carrie: The Musical’ opened on Broadway. Critics and theatre-goers alike were horrified at what they saw. The togas and laser light shows were nothing like the ‘Carrie’ viewers knew and loved. The songs, while some were good, felt odd and misplaced in the story.
One song that particularly upset the audience was “Out for Blood,” in which characters Billy and Chris kill a pig to use for blood to prank Carrie. With the ensemble chanting “blood” and “kill the pig” while the leads danced and sang under bright red lights, the audience was unsettled to say the least.
Every night it performed, after the final blackout, the audience erupted with boos. Once the lights went up, there was some applause, a pitying compliment towards the actors for doing what they could with what they had. The critics were less pitiful though, with every major theatre review absolutely scorching the production.
After five days of performing, ‘Carrie: The Musical’ closed, cementing itself as one of the shortest runs of a musical ever, and one of most horrible failures in Broadway history.