“Carrie” is the title of Stephen King’s first published novel, which is a supernatural horror story about a young girl who torments her tormenters. In 1976 — two years after the book’s initial publication — a film adaptation was released that has since become a cult classic. A decade passed before the story was revisited, this time as a Broadway musical that had a very short run.
The current spring 2012 revival is a revised version of the original 1988 Broadway production. “Carrie” is currently in previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre and is scheduled to open on March 1. The show’s creators insist that this incarnation of the popular story stands on its own.
Director Stafford Arima, known best for his work on the Off-Broadway hit “Altar Boyz,” recently told Playbill.com, “It was really important for us, when we approached coming back to ‘Carrie’ and reinventing it for 2012, that we took a very hard look at making sure that we were making this presentation, making this story, making this narrative, its unique own self — we weren’t putting the novel on the stage, or putting the movie on the stage — that we were bringing to life ‘Carrie’ in a theatrical way.”
Nor, one assumes, do the show’s creators — Lawrence D. Cohen (book), Michael Gore (music), and Dean Pitchford (lyrics) — aim to put on a simple revision of their 1988 Broadway flop. That production, capitalized at over $7 million, met with scathing reviews for everything from direction to special effects, and consequently closed its doors after only 16 previews and five performances. Cohen et. al. were so affected by the failure that they resisted all attempts to revive the show until Arima approached them four years ago with fresh staging ideas. “There was an excellent score and hugely resonant story at the core of ‘Carrie,'” Arima recently told The New York Times. “I thought the best of ‘Carrie’ could be seen if it was staged as naturalistically as possible, rather than playing up the otherworldly aspects.”
While the verdict is out on whether or not this new, organic “Carrie” will shine critically and financially, the production is not alone in its genre, joining a long tradition of musicals — successful and not — born from big screen hits.
The considerable successes of “The Producers” and “The Full Monty” in the early 2000’s seemed to give this time-honored tradition new life in the new millennium, and a wave of movie-to-musical productions followed. Some of these, such as 2002’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” based on the 1967 film, and “Hairspray,” based on John Water’s 1988 cult classic, were smash hits, winning multiple Tony awards, the latter including one for Harvey Fierstein’s gender-bending turn as Edna Turnblad.
More recently, 2008’s “Shrek the Musical” met with mixed reviews but great initial grosses. Audiences dwindled too quickly, and the show dropped its final curtain after one year. The production, known as the most expensive to be staged on Broadway at that time, failed to recoup an original investment rumored to be as much as $25 million.
“Shrek” had been DreamWorks films’ first attempt to compete directly with Disney for Broadway audiences. Disney has proven to be a powerhouse in the movie-to-musical category, with such long-running musicals as “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Little Mermaid.”
However, some attempts to turn movies into box office gold have been plain failures. These include the 2006 musical comedy “High Fidelity” based on Stephen Frear’s 2000 indie film of the same name. The show lasted through only 14 performances amid lukewarm reviews and a struggling box office. Dolly Parton’s 2009 reworking of 1980’s “9 to 5” ran for only four months, closing in September of that year.
And of course there is the famously problematic “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” which opened to terrible reviews and actually closed to reinvent itself for last June. The show is currently selling well on both the primary and secondary markets, and its producers now believe the show’s Broadway earnings might recoup the $75 million investment in the most expensive show to be produced on Broadway.
Fierstein returns to the movie-to-musical genre this spring, this time bringing the 1992 Disney movie “Newsies” to the Great White Way. “Big Fish,” adapted from the 2003 fantasy adventure, is scheduled to take the stage in spring of 2013.
Despite the obvious risks, producers continue to gamble on the power of film to fill Broadway venues.