Bad things always seem to happen to Carrie. The awkward title character in Stephen King’s novel was the victim of vicious bullying and she would unleash her wrath using telekinetic powers. Despite a successful 1976 film adaptation starring Sissy Spacek, there was no happy ending, especially when Broadway producers got a hold of the story.
A 1988 stage adaptation with a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and music by Michael Gore proved to be bloodier than the infamous prom scene, closing after just 16 previews and 5 performances. It would remain the most expensive quick flop on Broadway for nearly 20 years.
That legendary production quickly developed a cult following, however, and the show’s creators refused to let it go, reworking the book and substituting several new songs. “Carrie: The Musical” was resurrected Off Broadway in 2012 for a limited run that would ultimately earn several awards nods and one trophy, proving there is life after death.
This weekend, South Florida’s Slow Burn Theatre will be among the first regional companies to premiere the infamous show. Led by director Patrick Fitzwater and his co-artistic director Matthew Korinko, Slow Burn has gained a reputation for tackling those quirky modern musicals that most companies avoid.
Fitzwater is excited: “It’s a completely different show from the original that opened on Broadway,” he said, blaming timing on the show’s failure to connect with audiences. “I think the musical was still pretty shoddy, to be honest, but the concept was ahead of its time. Audiences weren’t ready.”
He feels the story resonates better today, given the attention to bullying in recent years. The story has also been updated and set in contemporary times, with modern references and the teenaged characters taking selfies and using their cell phones on stage.
The biggest challenges for a small company like Slow Burn, he says, are the special effects to reflect Carrie’s telekinetic powers.
“It’s difficult to convey to audiences that she’s moving things with her mind, not like Elphaba (from “Wicked”) who flies above the stage on a broom stick,” Fitzwater explained. “The effects are almost cinematic, but on stage in front of a live audience, you can’t do a reshoot. I’ll be holding my breath.”
Fitzwater and his design team had to figure out how to create exploding lights, levitating crucifixes, moving furniture and, of course, the infamous prom bloodbath.
The director also credits his young cast, most in their teens or early twenties, for the energy of the production. He noted the original Broadway production cast much older actors in the roles of high school students.
“That caught me off guard….I wasn’t ready for their energy and how much the book resonated with them, especially around the themes of bullying and the pressure to (be accepted by) the ‘in’ crowd,” he said.
The new “Carrie” still doesn’t have a happy ending, but Fitzwater is confident the show will finally break its Broadway curse in Boca Raton.
“Carrie: The Musical” will be presented by Slow Burn Theatre Company, Oct. 16 – Nov. 2, at West Boca Raton Community High School, 12811 W. Glades Rd. in Boca Raton. Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $40 at SlowBurnTheatre.org.