Going bravely where Broadway has flopped before, the Off Broadway company Theatre Couture is readying a new adaptation of the Stephen King horror novel, "Carrie." If all goes well, Off-Broadway will see a commercial staging starring drag performer Sherry Vine in spring or fall of 2003.
"Carrie," one of King's best known and most enduring works, is about the vengeful adventures of an ostracized teenage girl, tormented at school and at home, who finds she has telekinetic powers. As anyone with even a passing interest in Broadway's most infamous fiascos knows, the novel was transformed by composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and librettist Lawrence D. Cohen into a musical. The show, directed by Terry Hands, starred Linzi Hateley as Carrie and Betty Buckley as her religious fanatic mother. Carrie opened on May 12, 1988, to appalling reviews and closed three days later. The title has since become something of a catchword for "flop."
The Theatre Couture version, written by Erik Jackson, will not be a musical, although it will have "some musical elements."
"It will definitely be very black comedy," Jackson told Playbill On-Line. "But that's inherent in the novel. It's a very serious take on the pressures and pain of adolescence. But 'Carrie' is also so well known in our culture; we all know the story. Everybody feels it's their story. Because of that collective unconscious, there's a way to have fun with the story. There will be comedy and camp, and some horror, and maybe a little blood.
"In the Broadway musical, they spattered that actress with a little stage blood. We'll have much more. With our version, you may want to bring a raincoat." Jackson said the company has already talked to some producers, who want to open the show in a commercial Off-Broadway house. In the past, Theatre Couture projects—such as Doll and the 1997 Off-Broadway transfer Tell Tale—have begun at grungy, nonprofit, Off-Off Broadway venues, such as P.S. 122.
Carrie already has its creative team in place. Josh Rosenzweig will direct. Kevin Adams (Hedda Gabler) will provide lighting and scenery. David Dalrymple, the man responsible for the breakaway suit pop tart Britney Spears wore on the MTV Awards, will design the costumes. Basil Twist, the award-winning puppeteer who created the long-running underwater puppet show, Symphonie Fantastique, will do the telekinesis-related special effects. And Sherry Vine will star as either the woebegone Carrie or her Christian zealot mother.
Somewhat incredibly, Jackson's first wish was to restage the Broadway musical. However, he found the creative team less than excited about the idea. "We talked to them at one point," said Jackson. "We had a meeting. But they are interested in having that production vindicated. They don't want someone to make fun of it. We wanted to celebrate it, but also lampoon it."
Thus rejected, Jackson, taking a different tack, decided to adapt King's novel from scratch. He began by writing the author's lawyer. "We got an immediate response back," he recalled. "He wrote, 'Are you out of your mind?' But, at the bottom of the letter, I noticed the lawyer had cc'd Stephen King."
Rebuffed a second time, Jackson was ready to abandon "Carrie." "I had given up," he said. "I was angry that they hadn't read my letter more closely. I was done." Then two weeks after the initial correspondence, Jackson received a second letter from King's lawyer, saying "King had asked him to pursue the matter."
Jackson quickly pounded out an exuberant six-page letter to King, explaining why he wanted to adapt "Carrie" and the approach the theatre company would take to the material, mailing it off with a stash of Theatre Couture clippings. Finally, King's lawyer replied, granting the troupe the rights to the book. "I just flipped," said Jackson.
The playwright now has to produce a first draft in the next six months and hope for the best. "[King] must see that this will be an interesting way to see his work," Jackson said.
—By Robert Simonson