With Andrew traipsing round former Yugoslavia (getting himself in the mood for another Eastern European Eurovision Song Contest victory), the Whingers are on a much needed break from bad theatre. This leaves Phil free to mull (inspired by the satisfying panning of Gone With the Wind) over the very worst shows he’s had the pleasure to experience.
It’s a long list, among the mouth-watering contenders: Jean Seberg, Leonardo the Musical: A Portrait of Love, Metropolis and Jeeves (the original 1975 version), but standing like a beacon of kitsch above the rest is that now legendary spectacle of Carrie – The Musical. (Dubiously ambiguous poster right)
Phil dragged himself up to Stratford-upon-Avon, his first visit to the hallowed home of the RSC (who were co-producing), for the show because it starred one of his favourite musical divas Barbara Cook.
Yes Carrie, Stephen King’s horror classic about a teenage girl with telekinetic powers and her dominating religious freak of a mom (Cook). Who thought this an ideal subject for musical treatment -sounds bad doesn’t it? But it proved to be way beyond any expectations.
Shocking and horrific (but not in the way intended), it was one of those times when you can’t quite believe what you’ve just seen or heard, and you know you really shouldn’t, but you can’t help laughing. A bit like hearing about John Prescott’s bulimia.
Even though it was all 20 years ago (now that’s what Phil calls frightening) he remembers it like it was last night’s nightmare. He recalls the couple sitting in front of him putting their fingers in their ears as the over-amplified orchestra made their first ear-splitting noises.
How many musicals feature an opening scene depicting a teenage girl’s first menstruation (see right), the coach parties must have been hammering at the doors? Phil remembers looking at the audience’s faces, it was like the “Springtime for Hitler” scene in The Producers, jaws were hanging open in disbelief.
The bizarre, stark, all white box set (designer Ralph Koltai – who was Phil’s neighbour at that time -fascinating eh?) at least hinted at excessive bloodletting to come. White to emphasise the blood and a plastic shiny surface presumably nice and easy to wipe clean? No, the famous scene where Carrie (Linzi Hateley) is drenched with pig’s blood by her fellow students was realised by a plastic bucket being jammed on her head and a few dribbles of stage blood, all performed in a red spotlight of course.
Carrie’s telekinetic destruction of the high school prom was an orgy of noise and lasers with the cast, in their fabulous eighties outfits, writhing amongst them (choreography, Debbie Allen of Fame fame). Oh, and there was even a musical number to accompany all this, helpfully called, er…“The Destruction”.
But before all this the audience had a chance to savour immortal lines like those sung in the drive-in movie scene (right), and one has stayed with Phil to this day:
“I don’t need romance,
I just wanna get in your pants”
Yes, Sondheim’s crown was ripe for the taking, but these memorable lines don’t appear to have made the Broadway version. The lyrics Phil’s unearthed feature this:
“All we ever do is park
Then for hours you grope me in the dark”
A vast improvement.
Stratford was a sort of out-of-town try out for the Broadway production, the programme boasted “Carrie makes history as the first truly Anglo-American enterprise!”, yes, it made history alright.
Also featured in director Terry Hand’s fantastic farrago were the late Fame star Gene Anthony Ray, “Da Doo Ron Ron” singer Darlene Love, the excellent Sally Anne Triplett and Charlotte d’Amboise. The book was by Lawrence D. Cohen (who scripted the film of Carrie), lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and music by Michael Gore (both also Fame collaborators).
To be fair and balanced (for once), Cook sang her fabulous heart out but looked like she’d rather be somewhere else (along with most of the audience) and Linzi Hateley made a remarkable debut, having been cast at the age of 17 for the lead. What a memorable way to start a career.
Barbara Cook quit the show before it reached Broadway, apparently after being nearly decapitated (you really couldn’t make this stuff up) by the set on the opening night (a massive heavenly staircase that descended from above for the “climax”) and was replaced by Betty Buckley (who played the gym teacher in the film of Carrie)-hadn’t she heard?
Now who could have anticipated the Broadway critics giving it a resounding thumbs down? After a couple of weeks of previews it managed just 5 performances after the opening. Phil happened to be in New York just as it closed and remembers seeing the sets being thrown into skips outside the Virginia Theatre where it had made it’s unique Broadway history. Shaudenfreude in a skip? If only he’d been carrying a camera.
Phil, whose jaw had almost needed rewiring after the experience, was in shock for days, wrote a letter of sympathy to Barbra Cook, who replied with a lengthy and frank account of what had happened. Unfortunately he can’t quote from it as it’s currently lost amongst his many precious whatnots, but expect it to appear on eBay one day.
Such is Carrie – The Musical’s legend that it lent its name to the book for afficionados of the genre, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops.
There’s even a fan’s website for those who (like Phil) really have nothing better do, providing more information than you could possibly ever want, bizarrely set up by someone who never even saw the show. You can see images and listen to huge appetising chunks of the score and it has it’s own unofficial website.
And if that’s still not enough there’s quite a few moments captured on YouTube, but to save you time, and since you’re still with us, here’s the American TV ad for the show:
But to get a true feel of the show try the “Wotta Night”(sic) number, it’s tantalisingly fuzzy – a bit like viewing through Andrew’s winceyette nightie :
And for the masochists among you here’s the opening number “In”, and if you make it through to the end of the clip you’ll just glimpse Carrie’s first appearance before the spectacular finish:
Gone With the Wind – The Musical (sorry, play with music) was just boring, Carrie was hilarious. Phil remembers the long journey back to London from Stratford going in a flash as they chewed over what they’d just witnessed. How Andrew would have loved it. The Whingers are petitioning for a revival.