The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How Stephen King’s Carrie First Became a Musical

Seth Rudetsky   The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How Stephen King’s Carrie First Became a Musical
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth finds out from where the idea for the musical first came, plus a reunion of the original Broadway cast, stories from Barry Manilow, and Stephanie J. Block sings a cut song from The Cher Show.
Linzi Hateley in Carrie.
Linzi Hateley in Carrie. Peter Cunningham

If you’re reading this, you are a fan of the arts! One of the things Stars In The House focuses on (besides raising money for The Actors Fund) is the new stimulus bill. If we don’t have the arts included, we are in severe trouble. Yes, Broadway will survive somehow…but there are tons of regional theatres and community theatres that rely mainly on ticket sales. Since March, there has been (basically) no ticket sales. These theatres will close permanently if they don’t get help from the government.

Why should we care? Well, first of all, the arts are a salve to the people involved and to the people who sit in the audience. It relieves stress and tension and, therefore, improves the human race. On a more capitalistic note, the arts are a huge part of the economy. Everything surrounding an arts center depends on audiences coming to said arts center for their business! From restaurants and coffee shops to parking garages and babysitters! If these arts centers close, the economic effect will be devastating.

Please get thee to StarsInTheHouse.com.

Right on top of the website is an action alert for you to click. It will help you immediately contact your elected officials and tell them to put the arts in the stimulus bill. Elected officials do indeed react to public outcry…Americans For The Arts told us they haven’t had this many people contacting the government about the arts since the NEA was almost cut four years ago. And the NEA wasn’t cut! Become part of the outcry and tell your friends! It’s all at StarsInTheHouse.com
Here’s a reel we put together with people like Ben Stiller, Itzhak Perlman, Misty Copeland, Marc Shaiman, Audra McDonald, Randy Rainbow and more! Please share!

Barry Manilow was our guest on one of Stars In The House episodes about arts funding and, at one point, he was talking about when Clive Davis first offered him a record deal. He had been working as Bette Midler’s music director and arranger and when he told her was making a record, she asked “Doing what?” He said “Singing…” She was completely miffed and said, “You don’t sing.” It’s one of those things where you’re known for one thing and people don’t know what else you can do. We all realized he could indeed sing when he wound releasing 51 Top-40 singles (and 13 went to No. 1)! What’s crazy is how his life changed so quickly. He remembers, after he recorded “Mandy” having to fly to San Francisco to meet with Clive Davis. Barry didn’t have a lot of money in his checking account at the point and literally bounced a check at the A&P. Later that day, he met with Clive Davis who handed him a check…for a million dollars! “What a difference a day makes…”

Speaking of which, even though he had years filled with non-stop hits following that first check, Barry didn’t deal with his own money and lost most of it! But he then got a new business manager, and judging from the gorgeous house he was livestreaming from, I’d paraphrase one of his songs and say “Looks Like He Made It”! You can watch our full episode with Barry here:

Stars In The House also did a reunion of the musical Carrie. Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford (who wrote the score to Fame) wrote the music and lyrics to Carrie and Michael’s husband, Larry Cohen, wrote the book. Larry also wrote the script to the film (which is fantastic) and I asked him about that terrifying ending. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen it, don’t read the next paragraph.

In Stephen King’s book version of Carrie, the end of the book indicates that there’s another little girl who’s going to grow up with Carrie’s powers. Larry said the film had lots of different endings (including Amy Irving’s character being in a mental hospital) but they hadn’t settled on one. One day, the film’s director Brian DePalma came up to him during filming and described the ending he was thinking about to Larry. He was standing extremely close to Larry and when he got to the part where the hand comes out the ground, he grabbed Larry’s leg. Larry yelped. That decided it!

But the musical came about because a few years later, Larry and Michael saw Alban Berg’s opera Lulu—which is dark. When they were leaving The Met and heading home, Michael remarked, “You know, if Berg were alive today, he’d be writing an opera of Carrie.” They both suddenly thought “Wait a minute….” They talked about it through dinner and they realized that because of the high school elements, it should be a musical. They called Stephen King and—after they told him the idea—there was a very long pause. Both Michael and Larry thought he had hung up!!!! Finally, he said that if there could be a musical about a barber who slits people’s throats, who are then cooked up and eaten and a musical about an Argentinian dictator, then Carrie could work. After they wrote Act 1, Michael Bennett (with whom Larry had worked on Seesaw and Twigs) let them use his rehearsal studio to do a workshop. If you’ve never heard it, it was so good! Here’s my deconstruction of one of the songs featuring Laura Dean as the good girl, Sue, and Liz Callaway as the bad girl, Chris!

They were doing the workshop just to hear Act 1 out loud, after writing it by themselves for so many years. But they were encouraged to invite people and soon they had a lot of interest. The famous agent Sam Cohn wanted to help them get it on Broadway and he introduced them to all of his most famous clients who were directors. They presented it to director Mike Nichols who loved it, but said he couldn’t direct it because when he saw the movie he did not want her to go to the prom…and he still felt the same way!

Bob Fosse told them that he felt it needed to be darker (Really!?!??) and was too vocally rangey for dancers to do. Terry Hands from the Royal Shakespeare Company expressed great interest but the creative team wasn’t interested because they had seen his two previous musical projects and actually walked out! But they met with him and he was so enthusiastic and full of ideas that they were basically sold. And then he told them that he could get it at the Royal Shakespeare Company as the follow-up to Les Miz and that sold them. Looking back, they realize they needed more experienced people around them. In their early success (Fame and—for Dean—Footloose) they had people with vast experience guiding them. Terry Hands didn’t have that kind of Broadway musical experience. Plus, the team didn’t get to workshop Act 2 like they had Act 1.

They wrote Act 2 and suddenly it was at the Royal Shakespeare Company. As for casting, they had wanted Betty Buckley (who played Catherine on Broadway opposite Dean Pitchford’s title role in Pippin) to play the mother, but the negotiations fell apart. The great Barbara Cook played Margaret in London instead, but after she sang it full out for them (fantastically!) she told them she wouldn’t be able to do that eight times a week. She was older than Betty and the team felt she measured out her energy so she could sustain the show…. and it wasn’t at the level the show needed.

When the run finished in London they told the powers-that-be that they wouldn’t allow it to come to Broadway unless it starred Betty Buckley. Thankfully, they got her!

Linzi Hateley remembers going to the audition at age 16 and trying to look older because she felt no one would hire someone so young. After she sang, they told her to take off the makeup she had put on to look older (according to Larry, she looked like Joan Collins!) and she sang again. She soon found out she got the role… on her 17th birthday!
Here she is, recreating the title song in a video that Shelbie Rassler put together for us. #StillGotIt

Sally Ann Triplett was in the ensemble of Follies (with an amazing cast like Julia McKenzie, Diana Rigg, Delores Gray) when she got cast in Carrie and asked her Follies director, Mike Okerent, what to do. He told her she must take the role and they released her from Follies. After the extremely short run on Broadway, she was living (and chilling) on a boat (!) in the 79th Street Boat Basin. Someone came to her boat saying Cameron Mackintosh was on the phone for her. He offered her a place in Follies again…but this time an actual role! This is Sally Ann, Linzi and the cast in before the show came to Broadway.

Carrie_cast_London

Charlotte d’Amboise really wanted the role of the bad girl, Chris, and was called back with just one other person. She knew they were more into the other woman auditioning and she was right. Charlotte wasn’t cast. The next day, however, the other woman (who was her pal) called her and told Charlotte she had read the script and there were too many curse words. Yes, the original woman cast was a born again Christian and turned down the role which opened the door to Charlotte getting cast! Charlotte had no problem cursing up a storm!

Here’s Sally Ann and Charlotte together. #Unitards

Betty recalled having to act as Margaret White in the stunning song “And Eve Was Weak,” shoving Carrie down a trap door, while seeing what was actually happening underneath. Linzi was supposed to hold on ledge of the trapdoor with her fingertips, so there was a burly stagehand below the stage who was holding her up to she wouldn’t hurt her arms. That meant Betty had to sing at Carrie with all this drama while seeing a guy holding her up by the waist.

Regardless, watch how brilliant this number is and how amazing they sound! Charlotte told Betty that she gave the best performance she’d ever seen on a Broadway stage. Watch “And the Eve Was Weak” here.

Around two hours before the reunion began last Saturday, Betty told me she’d record her Act 2 song “When There’s No One” if I’d send her a piano track. She recorded it, Shelbie edited it and we showed this during the reunion. When we came back to the creative team and other cast members, everyone was speechless. Brava Betty!

Watch the entire reunion here:

In other news: My live concert series with Broadway stars has been going so great (live every Sunday at 8PM ET and then re-broadcast Monday at 3PM ET)! Coming up is Rachel Bay Jones, followed by Sierra Boggess, Karen Olivo, and Jeremy Jordan. Plus you can still watch the Liz Callaway and Stephanie J Block concerts “on demand.” Info and tickets at TheSethConcertSeries.

P.S. Near the end of Stephanie J Block’s concert last night, she picked up her daughter, Vivi, and sang the final song. My sister, Nancy, got this great shot!


Here’s an excerpt from the show: Stephanie singing the great Daryl Waters arrangement of “Believe”, which was cut out-of-town from The Cher Show. Enjoy and peace out!

Click Here to Shop for Theatre
Merchandise in the Playbill Store
 
Recommended Reading: