PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Carrie Director Stafford Arima

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18 Feb 2012

Stafford Arima
Stafford Arima
Photo by Monica Simoes

Her first prom night didn't go as planned, and neither did her 1988 Broadway debut, but Carrie is back in a new Off-Broadway production under the wing of Altar Boyz director Stafford Arima.


Director Stafford Arima, who gave Off-Broadway the camp boyband musical comedy Altar Boyz and was Olivier Award-nominated for his direction of the London premiere of Ragtime, is working with composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and original screenwriter Laurence D. Cohen to pump fresh blood into the flop musical Carrie for a production by Off-Broadway's MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. They've stripped the musical of its broad spectacle and camp baggage (remembered by many from the original 1988 Broadway production), getting to the heart of the Stephen King story — the tale of a girl who is different.

Carrie now focuses on the outsider and the imposter that lurks within all of us. In a ripped-from-the-headlines vein, the central character is a bullied teen, with a more-than-troubled home life, who is desperate for a place to fit in. As we all know, bullying has consequences. And in the case of Carrie, they are cataclysmic. spoke with Arima during early rehearsals of Carrie, which is currently in previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. It will officially open Off-Broadway March 1, with Molly Ranson (August: Osage County) in the title role and Tony nominee Marin Mazzie (Ragtime, Passion, Man of La Mancha) as her mother, Margaret.

What are your first Carrie memories? How did you first encounter the material — was it the novel, the film or the musical?
Stafford Arima: My first memory was the film. I think De Palma's film, for most of us, was etched in our heads and there are certain iconic images from that film that, I think, still keep us up at night, in nightmarish form. Then, I saw the musical in 1988. I was 19 years old — came down from Toronto, which is where I'm from, and sat in the Virginia Theatre with my mother on a Saturday matinee and experienced another very visceral experience. It was like a rock concert in many ways. I couldn't believe the kind of visceral response that the audience and, inevitably, the performers gave to one another. It was like a feedback loop. They were giving it to us, we were giving it back to them. It was an event. Those are really my only two experiences.


Molly Ranson
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

How helpful was Stephen King's original novel?
SA: When I was excited about revisiting Carrie [the musical], I went back to read the source material, and I had never read King before, so it was my first time experiencing kind of where it was birthed from. And, what's really fascinating about the novel versus the film versus the musical is that, inevitably, they are all very different. It was really important for us — me and the authors — when we approached coming back to Carrie and reinventing it for 2012 that we took a very hard look at making sure that we were making this presentation, making this story, making this narrative its unique, own self — we weren't putting the novel on the stage or putting the movie on the stage — that we were bringing to life Carrie in a theatrical way. So, that's been a very exciting process over the last few years of development.

What are some of the things you remember from seeing Carrie the first time onstage? What was your gut reaction?
SA: When I experienced Carrie in 1988, the first thing that I was floored by was the design. The design was very unique. It was this kind of white box. I just have vague images, but it was very abstracted. It was not literal in any way, and that was a new form of storytelling for me — a new form of how to use, basically, a black box space and invent within that space. So, that was what really locked inside of me, and, maybe, just as kind of a young director-in-training, the visual was very exciting for me. And then, of course, the event of being at Carrie was just an event in itself. Coming from Toronto, that was a time when there wasn't an internet, there weren't chat rooms or boards, so all I knew was that I was coming to see Carrie, and I had seen the movie, and I was experiencing something brand new.


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