‘Carrie’ Is Back, Shock-Challenged and Bloodless: Jeremy Gerard

Molly Ranson in a scene from "Carrie" in New York. The musical is based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel. Photographer: Joan Marcus/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Telekinetic Carrie White proved she wasn’t dead when her arm shot up from the grave at the end of “Carrie.”

She still isn’t dead, despite the kaleidoscopically bad $8-million kitsch fest that closed on Broadway in 1988 after five performances.

Now she’s back (I suppose ‘baack!’ is more apt), in a scaled-down, more thematically persuasive revision of the musical whose heroine is the ultimate victim of bullying as well as child abuse. No red goop drenches her in the climactic scene, which is symptomatic of the entire enterprise. It’s earnest and underpopulated, and it’s bloodless.

Carrie White (Molly Ranson) is a naive, 17-year-old walking target in her rural Maine high school. When her first period arrives during a shower after gym class, she freaks, prompting derision and a barrage of tampons from the “in” girls who torment her unrelentingly.

At home, her Bible-quoting nutjob mother (Marin Mazzie) greets this sign of womanhood with frenzied horror, apparently seeing this as her own story of pregnancy and abandonment as her daughter’s fate, too.

No Prom

When the Queen Meanie (Jeanna De Waal) refuses to apologize for the gym incident, she’s told she can’t go to the prom. This sets in motion the cruel plot that will follow Carrie’s unlikely coronation at the dance. This relies on the repentant (Christy Altomare) turning so nice that she persuades her boyfriend (Derek Klena) to take Carrie to the prom (also unlikely).

You know all this from the Stephen King novel and the Brian De Palma movie. The musical, written by Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (lyrics) and Lawrence D. Cohen (book) and originally staged by Terry Hands, tried mightily to out-lurid the film with teens who frequented leather bars, as if real teens aren’t scary enough.

For the MCC Theater revision, the trio and director Stafford Arima have gone the opposite way. David Zinn’s drab gray set consists almost entirely of the back wall of the gym, post-apocalypse. Emily Rebholz’s costumes are staid. The spooky lighting (Kevin Adams) and sound (Jonathan Deans) don’t compete with Hollywood, but they get the job done. The ensemble, especially in the prom scene, seems skimpy.

Scaling “Carrie” back has the unfortunate effect of demonstrating the key thing about “Carrie” that all the trappings may have hidden: It was a lousy score in 1988 and it’s still a lousy score.

Teen Obsessions

The melodies, even the new ones, are outdated generic pop, the lyrics banal if somewhat more attuned to teen obsessions with not standing out and fitting into prom dresses. (“You should trust what you feel/That’s the only thing that’s real”)

There’s an admirable lack of gimmickry and the cast is terrific. Ranson underplays the ugly duckling whose moment of swanliness is cut cruelly short. Mazzie, too, seems rooted as the mother from hell. Altomare is convincing as the do-gooder and is rewarded with the best songs. Blair Goldberg defies stereotype as the knowing gym teacher.

I can understand workshopping a flop to see if there’s anything worth salvaging. But when the answer is so inarguably “No,” it’s hard to figure out why it came so much further along.

Through April 22 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St. Information: +1-212-352-3101; http://www.mcctheater.org.

Rating: *

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)

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