A storied Broadway flop based on the Stephen King novel of the same title, the original show opened in 1988, closing three days after it opened. The production had songs by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford and starred Betty Buckley as the mother of a pathologically shy teen girl with telekinetic powers. It was lambasted by critics for its hyperventilating theatrics, stamping it in theater lore as an inadvertent parody of Brian De Palma’s belovedly uber-scary film version with Sissy Spacek..
Twenty-four years later, a muted rewrite of the musical has materialized off-Broadway under the auspices of the highly regarded MCC Theater. I can’t vouch for the first incarnation, but this second one, as directed by Stafford Arima, makes you wonder if intentionally campy sendup wouldn’t have been a better way to go all along.
This new no-frills “Carrie,” in which Marin Mazzie is saddled with the fanatical-mom role and Molly Ranson plays the tormented teen who takes incendiary vengeance on a gymnasium full of her suburban torturers, is the definition of grim. Throughout the show’s two hours, the spine never tingles. It just reflexively cringes, over the solemn account of Carrie’s twin hells, at the hands of her devilish schoolmates and her obsessively God-fearing mother.
Book writer Lawrence D. Cohen tried to take some of the venom out of Mazzie’s Margaret (played so terrifyingly in the movie by Piper Laurie), and some of the eeriness out of Carrie. De Palma’s effective juxtaposing ideas of sexual awakening with shame and revenge also disappear here. The musical posits Carrie instead as a kind of would-be Cinderella, who just wants to fit in. “Someday, someone will know my name,” Ranson sings, in one of the character’s many earnest moments.
Toning down the creepiest aspects of “Carrie” — humanizing the mother and turning the musical into more of a character study — deprives it of its thrill quotient. Even the climactic scene at the prom, during which the evil teens humiliate Carrie by dousing her in pigs’ blood, doesn’t succeed in stirring yours. This chiller yarn is now a yawn.
“Carrie,” music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, book by Lawrence D. Cohen. Directed Stafford Arima. Choreography, Matt Williams. About 2 hours. Through April 22 at Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., New York. Call 212-352-3101, or visit www.mcctheater.org/tickets.