For good reason, “Carrie the Musical” occupies a notorious place on Broadway. The musical, based on the Stephen King novel, was one of the biggest flops in the history of U.S. theater.
The original musical opened in 1988 at a cost of $8 million, which was a huge sum at the time. By the time the proverbial curtain fell on the first night of previews, legend has it that boos were as audible as applause. The musical was eviscerated, and lasted only five official performances.
This weekend, the University of Southern Maine presents an updated and far more successful version of the musical. It runs just four performances at Corthell Concert Hall, beginning Friday night.
Director Edward Reichert, a USM lecturer in musical theater, saw the new-and-improved version when it played off-Broadway in the winter of 2012. It was a small-budget, no frills musical, with about half the original music. The authors made it edgier and tried to focus the story to rescue “Carrie” from oblivion and give the show not only new life, but a better reputation.
Reichert saw the updated version.
“I loved the fact that it was done minimalistically. It had good, fun music, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this would be really great for our musical theater majors at USM in the concert hall, which has limited production-value capability,” he said.
This being Halloween weekend and King being a Maine native, what better time or place to do it?
The new version is set in a fictional town in western Maine. It tells the story of a teen outcast, who is both bullied by kids at school and taunted by her religious mother at home.
Eileen Hanley, a 21-year-old senior from Portland, plays the title role.
She sympathizes with Carrie, although she cannot relate. When she learned last spring that Reichert planned to produce the show, she read the King novel and found YouTube versions of the 1988 musical and the 2012 revival.
“I think a lot of kids can relate to Carrie and her struggles with bullying. She was bullied a lot, and that is not uncommon. As an actress, it’s difficult to put yourself in that position and be vulnerable. You don’t like to feel like all the other kids hate you,” she said.
“And I don’t have any experiences with being abused by my own mother, so it’s hard for me to imagine, really.”
She enjoys the music, and loves singing with her co-star, Danielle Lane, who plays Carrie’s mother, Margaret.
Those familiar with the book should be warned: The musical version is not a close resemblance. There are common threads, but these almost feel like two different stories. The one thing that does translate is Carrie’s revenge, which she carries out thanks to her powerful supernatural gift.
Beyond the Maine connections, the other thing that made this show interesting to Reichert was the bullying theme. It comes up again and again in the news. It is a timely and important topic, he said.
“Although it’s a fictional story that a lot of people know, it sure does bring home some current issues. Carrie has become a poster child for bullying, so we are approaching the piece as if all these characters are real and trying to be honest, and that is the right way to go and that is what the authors want,” he said.
This is the Maine premiere of the musical, which comes at a busy time for King. His new novel, “Doctor Sleep,” is a best-seller. King and John Mellencamp’s new musical, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” just began a national tour. And the the non-musical remake of “Carrie” is in theaters now.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:[email protected]Twitter: pphbkeyes