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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

There will be blood in Bailiwick Chicago's Carrie: The Musical



One of my favorite books is Ken Mandelbaum's 1992 book, Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops, which takes an in-depth look at such shows, including the most infamous one - 1988's Carrie: The Musical, which received scathing reviews and closed after only five performances. And on the cover is a photo of a smiling Linzi Hateley covered in blood as the title character - and despite my reservations about a musical based on Stephen King's 1974 novel, the book made me wish that I had been one of the lucky few to have experienced this expensive Broadway disaster. And last week I finally got to see what all the fuss was about with Bailiwick Chicago's current production of Carrie: The Musical - and I enjoyed it.

However, this version is based on the 2012 Off-Broadway revival, which featured a revised score and book by original composers Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford and writer Lawrence D. Cohen. So most of the campiness is now gone from the show, including the drive-in movie theater ensemble number, "Don't Waste the Moon", and the pig farm song, "Out for Blood", in which mean girl Chris and her boyfriend Billy kill a pig for its blood. But don't worry, a bucket of pig's blood still falls on poor Carrie - it's just no longer a show tune. Now I'm assuming that everyone reading this review is familiar with the tragic tale of Carrie White, a lonely teenage girl whose telekinetic powers come in handy on prom night. You've either seen the 1976 Brian De Palma movie starring Sissy Spacek or you're familiar with the Broadway version featuring Ms. Hateley and the wonderful Betty Buckley as Carrie's religious fanatic mother Margaret. So when you sit down in your theater seat, you already know what's going to happen - there will be blood...on Carrie...in her lovely prom dress. And for the entire show, you wait for this moment to finally happen. It's the 11 o'clock number in my opinion.

Bailiwick Chicago does a great job with Carrie due to director Michael Driscoll and his talented cast, including Katherine L. Condit as Margaret White, Kate Garassino as gym teacher Ms. Gardner, Rochelle Therrien as nice girl Sue, Henry McGinniss as Sue's boyfriend Tommy, and Samantha Dubina, who perfectly captures the bitchiness of Chris. But the star of the show is, of course, Carrie - and actress Callie Johnson makes us care about her from beginning to end. And her transformation from a socially awkward girl to a happy prom date and then into a vengeful fury is quite believable - and fun to watch. Carrie also has a decent score with the title tune, Carrie and Margaret's duet of "And Eve Was Weak", Miss Gardner and Carrie's "Unsuspecting Hearts" and Margaret's "When There's No One".

I can understand why Carrie was not successful on Broadway - it's a very unusual premise for a musical - but I still liked it. And where else are you going to see a male audience member wearing a tiara and a "Prom Queen" sash? No, it wasn't me - but Carrie: The Musical is just that kind of show.

Bailiwick Chicago's Carrie: The Musical runs through July 12 at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater (2433 N. Lincoln Ave). Tickets are available online at victorygardens.org, by phone at (773) 871-3000 or at the Victory Gardens Box Office.

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

4 comments:

Vera said...

"Not Since Carrie" is one of my favorite books. I've read it four times. I've heard bootleg recordings of both the Royal Shakespeare company try-out and the Broadway version, and parts of the score, if not all, are exquisite. "And Eve Was Weak" sung by Linzi Hateley and Barbara Cook is swoonworthy, and the version with Betty Buckley almost as good.

Marc Harshbarger said...

Nice to "meet" another Not Since Carrie fan! Thanks for the comment, Vera!

Christoph said...

One question: Wasn't Sue's boyfriend named Tommy? I think Billy is Chris's equally nasty boyfriend. I have always been mildly curious about this musical as to whether it was as bad as it was made out to be. I am admittedly that rare person that was not a particular fan of DePalma's film (I did not bother with the latest remake), although I thought the cast was amazing. I was a particular fan of Piper Laurie as Margaret - ahhh, the good old days when a religious zealot could be depicted as insane and unsympathetic rather than a representative.

Marc Harshbarger said...

Thank you for catching my mistake, Christoph! I've corrected it now. I'm also not a big fan of the movie, but I would recommend that you check out the musical if you ever get the chance.

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