Carrie White can never catch a break. Ever since she first appeared in Stephen King’s 1974 novel Carrie, the awkward, lonely, abused teenage heroine has been misunderstood. There have been two film adaptations of King’s novel, each offering a different perspective on the characters and events culminating in the most iconic and memorable prom scene in cinema history. But what many film fans don’t know is that Carrie has also been adapted into a musical with a legacy of its own.
Like Carrie herself, Carrie: The Musical was perhaps doomed from the start. The 1988 production is one of the biggest and most expensive flops in Broadway history, closing after only five performances and countless rewrites during its previews. Barbara Cook, the original Margaret White (Carrie’s abusive and domineering religious fanatic mother) put in her resignation after nearly being decapitated by an elaborate moving set piece during the show’s first performance.
Problems with the script and staging, along with some bizarre directorial decisions, sealed the show’s fate. Betty Buckley replaced Cook as Margaret for the brief Broadway run and stole the show with her performance, specifically the thrilling “And Eve was Weak” in which Margaret beats and condemns Carrie, believing Carrie’s first period to be evidence that she has strayed from God. The song ends with Margaret belting a prayer for God to “cleanse and purify her with the Fire, and the Power, and the Glory,” because she believes a woman’s body is inherently sinful and must be punished in order for her soul to be saved. Yikes.
One of the main problems facing the original production was that the score lacked a consistent tone. The songs for the high school kids are pure 80s pop, whereas the songs for Carrie and Margaret are more akin to a Gothic thriller. (After all, Margaret has an unhealthy preoccupation with blood, fire, and sin). Composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford, who collaborated on the movie Fame, reworked their original score and presented a more cohesive Carrie off-Broadway in 2012. Recently departed Broadway star Marin Mazzie gave us a nuanced and chilling portrayal of Margaret. Her renditions of “And Eve was Weak” and “I Remember How those Boys Could Dance” are especially noteworthy.
Despite (or because of) its infamous failure, Carrie: The Musical has developed a cult following because its themes are timeless and universal. Adolescence is difficult and all teenagers clash with their parents from time to time. In general, Carrie is all of us, fighting against the odds to become her own person. But more specifically, Carrie is every young woman trying to love herself in a culture steeped in toxic masculinity.
Stephen King has said “Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, and what men fear about women and women’s sexuality.” This is where the biggest misunderstanding comes in. Many people consider Carrie to be a story about revenge because she uses her new-found powers of telekinesis against those who have tortured her for years, but that’s just the patriarchy talking.
In reality, Carrie is defending herself. She refuses to be a victim in an unjust world. King himself compared Carrie to Samson, saying that she metaphorically brings down the temple on a corrupt, misogynistic society. It isn’t until she discovers her power that Carrie realizes that things can (and must) be different.
In light of Kavanaugh and the garbage fire he represents, let’s remember Carrie. Let’s remember how a single moment can irreparably change lives forever. Let’s remember to question authority. And most importantly, let’s remember that we all have power we can use to change the world for the better.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.