The 1988 musical Carrie was widely seen as one of Broadway’s biggest flops, and its revival, which opened Thursday night in New York, also looks to be ill-starred.
Reviews of the new Carrie, reimagined by Canadian-born theatre director Stafford Arima, are poor to tepid.
"How bad is it? The new version directed by Stafford Arima produced quite a few titters during a recent preview. That's not good news: It's not a comedy. While it's not clear what Carrie is trying to be, it's not supposed to be funny," wrote Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press.
Several critics faulted Arima for being too cautious in exploiting Carrie’s gothic elements and also for playing down the bloody effects, including the pig-slaughtering scene, of the first production.
"Desperately trying to avoid any suggestion of camp, Arima goes for the opposite extreme and steers clear from anything that could suggest flamboyance. There are blood-red projections rather than gore, and we don’t see enough of Carrie’s psychic powers," Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote in the New York Post.
'Some lovely music is marred by a patronizing, out-of-touch book, an overwrought tone and characters that seem as light and insubstantial as an after-school TV special'— Mark Kennedy, AP
Arima studied at York University and, directed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival before moving onto to a career in the U.S. Among his credits are the critically acclaimed 2005 Off-Broadway musical Altar Boyz.
He had seen the much-maligned original production and recalls the pyrotechnics and strange effects causing a visceral response in audiences.
Arima took the initiative to contact the original creators — the book was by Lawrence D. Cohen, its music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford — to convince them to revisit the production. The reimagined story has a different structure and is told from a different point of view, with an emphasis on very current two themes: bullying and religious fundamentalism.
"With the right alignment of creative forces, we decided to take a leap of faith, jump off the cliff and say, 'We're going to re-explore and reinvent this piece for today in a way that highlights the story, focuses in on the relationship between mother and daughter and allows this really exciting score to be heard,"' Arima said ahead of Thursday's official opening.
Critics liked the new music, but were wary of the story.
"Some lovely music is marred by a patronizing, out-of-touch book, an overwrought tone and characters that seem as light and insubstantial as an after-school TV special," wrote AP's Kennedy.
New York Times critics Ben Brantley calls Carrie a "exceedingly sober revival" but questions whether the Stephen King fans who made the book and 1976 movie a success will flock to something quite so subdued. However, he had praise for Marin Mazzie, who portrays Carrie’s mother.
"In keeping with the show’s willfully humdrum tone, Mazzie at first seems like your average strict but caring mom. But when she sings, in a pure fire-edged soprano, an intensity emerges that shades into something more sinister. And the line between fierce maternal solicitude and obsessive, homicidal madness blurs in ways that take you by surprise," he said in his review published Friday.
Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg also had praise for the cast, saying Molly Ranson "underplays the ugly duckling whose moment of swanliness is cut cruelly short."
"Mazzie, too, seems rooted as the mother from hell. [Christy] Altomare is convincing as the do-gooder and is rewarded with the best songs. Blair Goldberg defies stereotype as the knowing gym teacher," he writes. Still, he concludes that this bloodless musical was not meant to be revived.