Tony Award Winner Betty Buckley Looks Back at Carrie On Stage and Screen

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08 Mar 2012

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley
Photo by Myriam Santos

For theatregoers who managed to catch one of the 21 performances of Carrie the musical during its short-lived Broadway run in 1988, several things stand out: the blood, the belting, the camp, the staircase and Betty Buckley.

Buckley, who also appeared as gym teacher Miss Collins in Brian De Palma's 1976 film of the Stephen King novel "Carrie," delivered a performance full of fire and brimstone on stage as Margaret White, a religiously devout mother who is convinced she must save her daughter from damnation with bloody results.

It seems almost everyone in the theatre community has a story (second hand, or otherwise) about Carrie, or claims to have seen it several times during its short run.

With Carrie fresh on the minds of theatregoers thanks to a reworked Off-Broadway revival at MCC Theater, thought it was best to get some insight from someone who was there – for every performance – Tony Award winner Buckley, who chats about about her experiences in the original film and Broadway production.

First impressions of Carrie the musical.
BB: Dean [Pitchford] and Michael [Gore] and Larry [Cohen] called me when they were originally writing it and said they were turning "Carrie" into a musical and they wanted me to play Margaret. I was really surprised. I didn't think that it would easily lend itself to be musicalized. But, when I heard their score, I was really knocked out by it. It's very operatic in proportion and very passionate and dramatic music. I thought it was great.

Working with co-star Linzi Hateley, who made her Broadway debut in the title role.
BB: Linzi was 17 years old and a very young actress and had never done a Broadway show before. I'd been an acting coach for a gazillion years, so I told her to really trust me and keep her eyes on my eyes. We did some improvisational work so that we had a real spontaneous reality between us, and she was a fantastic colleague onstage. She was amazing — really, really strong. So, in the rehearsal room by ourselves with the director, Terry Hands, we created, I think, a very authentic psychological portrait of a mother and daughter – an abusive mother to this young, gifted girl. We created these sequences that were very violent. Linzi was just really amazing, and she trusted me implicitly.

Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley in Carrie.
photo by Peter Cunningham

Keeping up stamina as Margaret and knocking out "And Eve Was Weak."
BB: I did the dance warm-up each morning with Debbie Allen and the company, and she had me run wind-sprints to get me strong enough to sing the stuff. Linzi and I were literally having a physical fight during "And Eve Was Weak" while I was chasing her around the stage and trying to throw her in this basement. There were five verses to that song and, at the ending, I belt this G. I was amazed! [Laughs.] And I was astonished that I could do it!

Reflecting on Carrie's reception and the first preview performance.
BB: I was really, really proud of the work we did. The first time we presented it to the company in the context of the first run, people were terrified and crying because it was very provocative work for the musical theatre. Honestly, I think Carrie, as a piece, was ahead of its time. Our first performance Linzi went out in her first number and stopped the show cold, which was amazing. I was backstage preparing to go on for this sequence in the house, and I went out and sang my first number and stopped the show cold, too. Our sequences were met with an incredible, very emotional response.

The fans.
BB: People would come in costume and would address us by name from the balcony. I remember one night, I'd go up on the elevator to the top of this great, white Aztec staircase for the end. I'm at the top of the stairs and somebody yells from the balcony, "Come on down, Betty Buckley!" There was this crazy energy in the theatre every time we did the show.


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