Yes, I saw Carrie the first time around. I’m the reviewer who described it as “the ultimate period musical.” Well, in Manhattan Class Company’s revival, scaled down and heavily revised, Carrie (Lucille Lortel Theatre) isn’t so ultimate anymore. The gross ineptitudes and grosser lapses in taste that made its original 1988 Broadway production a multi-car pileup worth gaping at have been removed, and with them all the legendary stature that Carrie has acquired in the interim. What’s left is—you could have guessed—just another sub-mediocre musical based on a once-popular book and film.
The tiny spark of inspiration that made both Stephen King’s original novel and Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie version of it icons in their respective trashy genres came from crossing the wires of two pubescent-girl fantasies. Take the rejected, bullied kid’s dream of being welcomed by, and then taking revenge on, the in crowd that snubbed her; now add the seizure of paranoia that sometimes accompanies the first onset of menstruation, especially when a girl hasn’t had the facts of life explained to her beforehand. (People interested in a more poetically expressed dramatization of the latter feeling should look up Adrienne Kennedy’s remarkable one-act A Lesson in Dead Language.)
The two notions collide for Carrie White (Molly Ranson), the maltreated daughter of an embittered religious-extremist mother (Marin Mazzie). When her humiliation in the shower after gym class gets recapitulated by a vicious prank just as she’s about to be crowned prom queen, she unleashes her newly discovered telekinetic powers, and there’s blood enough for everybody. (Although not, thanks to a technical glitch, at the press performance I attended.)
Attempting to convey the emotions of Carrie‘s characters in musical drama was a futile notion to start with: Such arias only weigh down what should be a speedily told anecdote. Having jettisoned the novice missteps that initially spiced up their otherwise colorless writing, Lawrence D. Cohen’s script and the Dean Pitchford–Michael Gore songs have now shrunk to just another preachy high-school lesson about being nice to kids who are Different. Aside from avoiding the Broadway original’s gigantic embarrassments, director Stafford Arima doesn’t do much except bring the scenes tidily on and off, to no particular effect. The cast works hard. Mazzie, her elegant long face contorted all evening in seeming emulation of Munch’s Scream, works very, very hard. But Carrie is way past pubescence now, and nobody’s gushing.