PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 25-March 2: Carrie Returns, Facing the Critics

ICYMI   PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 25-March 2: Carrie Returns, Facing the Critics The loosely affiliated community of American theatre geeks had a Mecca this week. It was the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, where MCC Theater opened its retooled production of the infamous flop 1988 musical Carrie.

Molly Ranson
Molly Ranson Photo by Joan Marcus

Theatre folk, they are a funny people. They love their disasters as much as they love their successes. I doubt there's a significant New York theatre pro who neglected to take in a preview of the show, inspired by the bloody Stephen King novel about an ostracized high schooler with telekinetic talents. And certainly every single critic, from the tall to the small, made good on their press invitation.

The New York Times, which has printed a number of pre-opening features on the show's legacy, was less impressed by the show itself. "Sober" was the word Ben Brantley used in the opening paragraphs of his negative review. Actually, "exceedingly sober." He found the show scaled-back and tamped-down and too well-behaved for its own campy good. (He loved Marin Mazzie.) "Desperately trying to avoid any suggestion of camp," wrote the Post, it "goes for the opposite extreme and steers clear from anything that could suggest flamboyance." (These must be the sort of reviews that cause the creative team to grit their teeth and seethe, "Too campy! Not campy enough! You can't win with these guys!")

Mark Kennedy of the AP set out the central problem of the revival: "The MCC Theater's re-imagined production of Carrie…is an attempt to reclaim what must be assumed is a stirring work evidently lost in the 1988 original, one of Broadway's most notorious failures. The result may be better, but it's nowhere near good."

Others agreed that MCC's assumption that the work was worth redeeming was ill-founded. "Now, director Stafford Arima's modest and economical projection-heavy staging doesn't inspire extreme reactions," lamented The Daily News. "It's just another so-so musical adaptation of a popular novel that fails to expand upon its source. It's not bad enough to be campy fun or stirring enough to really embrace."

To a certain extent, none of this matters; the limited-run show is a hit. It extended a month before the reviews came out. No matter what the critics say, no self-respecting theatre geek in New York is going to want to admit that they missed the second coming of Carrie. ***

Chita Rivera
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Hey, what's with this new trend of bringing back all the old Betty Buckley musicals? First Carrie. Now, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Rupert Holmes musical won a heap of Tonys back in 1986, and ran a year and a half on Broadway. Now the Roundabout Theatre Company is giving it its first-ever Broadway revival. They've got a swell star, too: the indefatigable Chita Rivera, who will play opium fiend Princess Puffer. Scott Ellis will direct. And, yes, the show will again collect audience votes about whodunnit (it's based on an unfinished Charles Dickens novel). Suggestion for the signature cocktail Roundabout serves in the lobby: Pina Colada.

The Roundabout also revealed plans for a revival of William Inge's Picnic and the world-premiere Off-Broadway production of The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin by Steven Levenson.

It hasn't been a picnic for Picnic the last few years, plans-wise. It was once announced for a fall 2010 Broadway debut with David Cromer at the helm; Cromer had had a success with the play in Chicago. Then, in 2011, Sam Gold was suddenly the director, and producer Darren Bagert said the aim is to open on Broadway in fall 2012 with a starry cast. (A June reading of Picnic boasted Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo.) Gold's still on board, but this Picnic will be strictly non-profit, albeit with Bagert associated.

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Those who were hoping that this season would be the one where they could see actress Lily Rabe performing in a play by her daddy, David Rabe, had their hopes dashed this week.

The New Group announced that Claire van der Boom — whose name sounds like a minor comic character in an Edith Wharton novel — will replace Lily Rabe in the world premiere of An Early History of Fire, a new work by Tony winner Papa Rabe, Off-Broadway this spring. "Scheduling conflicts" prevent Lily's participation in the production.

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Finally, come the final days of April, there's going to be a traffic jam on Broadway.

Typically, in the days before the Tony Awards cut-off date, producers do their best to defer to their fellows and not open on a day that has already been claimed by another show. But that's just not possible this year. On the nearly 20 productions which will open between March 1 and April 26, two Broadway shows will open on both April 23 (The Lyons and Ghost) and April 26 (Don't Dress for Dinner and Leap of Faith).

Perhaps they could share opening night parties, and save on rental costs.

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