ON THE RECORD: The Musicals Carrie, A Christmas Story and Seventeen

By Steven Suskin
28 Oct 2012

Album art
Album art

This week's column discusses the original Off-Broadway cast recording of the infamous Carrie; the new Broadway musical A Christmas Story; and the CD remastering of the 1951 musical Seventeen.

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Carrie [Ghostlight]
Since time began, authors of flop musicals have embroidered the legend "if only they hadn't messed it up" on their throw pillows, or wherever it is authors of flop musicals embroider such stuff. The "they" being producers or directors, sometimes choreographers or stars, and — in rare examples — the lyricist blaming the composer or the librettist blaming both.

In some cases, said authors — who over the years have dreamed of "fixing" their little fiasco — ultimately manage to convince someone to bankroll a second try. The number of times the retread works better than the original are all but nonexistent. The main exception seems to be Wright & Forrest's At the Grand, which folded on the road in 1958 and reappeared in 1989 as Grand Hotel; this with a significant chunk of the authors' treasured score ignominiously scrapped in Boston, replaced with songs by a much younger and much better tunesmith.



Add to the annals of forlorn second-chances the 1988 Carrie, which was the stuff of legends when the RSC production flopped in Stratford-upon-Avon (starring Barbara Cook) and went on to altogether bomb at Broadway's Virginia in 1988 (starring Betty Buckley). But what's a little adversity?

Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson
photo by Joan Marcus

Composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and librettist Lawrence D. Cohen — having lived with Carrie writ large on their resume for 20-odd years — finally pulled out their old sketch books and put together a new version that undid all the excesses that the aforementioned "they" had forced on them in 1988. Carrie — arguably the biggest flop of the 1980s — came back to town last March in a cut-down, Off-Broadway version at the Lucille Lortel on Christopher Street, in a production by MCC Theater. For those who collect such odd theatrical facts, this was the very same theatre where Mata Hari — arguably the biggest flop of the 1960s — resurfaced in an "improved" version that better reflected the authors' creative vision. In both cases, the main miracle was that the authors found anyone to foot the bill.

Now we have the original Off-Broadway cast album of Carrie, from Ghostlight. There were audience members who quite liked this revival, and they will no doubt like the CD just as much. To me, the revival seemed like just another poor 1980s rock musical, cryptically resuscitated. Marin Mazzie, in the part formerly essayed by Ms. Cook and Ms. Buckley, did everything one could ask in a difficult role. (Not necessarily difficult to perform, but difficult to make sense of.) Molly Ranson, too, acquitted herself well as the bloody heroine. The score comes across incrementally better on the CD than it did at the Lortel; without all that stuff going on, and without that blaring sound system, we find that the authors are actually telling a story.

But it's still, alas, Carrie.

Visit PlaybillStore.com to view theatre-related recordings for sale.

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