Monday, October 19, 2009

The long-awaited return of CARRIE THE MUSICAL?

Tony Award winner Sutton Foster and Tony nominees Marin Mazzie and Jennifer Damiano will take part in the industry presentation of the 1988 cult musical Carrie.

Yes, my dumplings, there actually was a Broadway musical based on Stephen King’s CARRIE!

Carrie (1974) was Stephen King's first published novel. The book follows a shy teenage girl who is raised by a fanatic Christian fundamentalist mother in a small Maine town. Carrie soon discovers she has telekinetic powers and ultimately uses them to take revenge on the classmates who taunt and humiliate her throughout the novel. Carrie was later adapted into a 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek in the title role, with Piper Laurie as her mother and Betty Buckley in a featured role as the gym teacher.

Fame songwriters Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford collaborated with Carrie screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen on the musical adaptation which premiered in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988 starring Linzi Hately as Carrie, with Tony winner Barbara Cook as her mother. The cast also featured Tony nominee Charlotte d'Amboise, Gene Anthony Ray and Darlene Love.

Terry Hands directed the production that featured choreography by Debbie Allen, both of whom repeated their work for Broadway. The musical proved challenging to mount, with numerous special effects and the crucial plot point of dousing its leading lady with buckets of fake blood.

Carrie arrived on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre in April 1988 with Betty Buckley (a veteran of the 1976 film) replacing Cook in the role of Margaret White. Much of the original London principal cast, including Hately, d'Amboise, Ray and Love, reprised their performances.

Capitalized at over $7 million, Carrie gained cult status for being such an expensive and short-lived Broadway venture. After being derided by critics and leaving audiences divided, Carrie closed on Broadway after playing only 16 previews and 5 performances.

For those of you too young to remember this 1988 debacle, may I recommend Ken Mandlebaum’s magnificent book NOT SINCE CARRIE which details the show’s rise and fall along with hundreds of other flops throughout the decades. (For theater afficionados and collectors of flop musicals, there simply is no substitute.)

From Mandelbaum’s book:

What makes CARRIE so unique in flop musical history is its combination of soaring, often breathtaking sequences and some of the most appalling and ridiculous scenes ever seen in a musical. It alternately scaled the heights and hit rock-bottom. CARRIE also had non-stop energy and, unlike so many flops, was not dull for a second.”

While the response of those who saw CARRIE varied wildly, the response of those who missed it was uniform. Never have so many people who missed a flop musical wished so fervently that they had seen it. Many of those who did see it found themselves unable to stop talking about it, and live tapes of the score were widely circulated and treasured. When flop musicals opened during the season that began with CARRIE, critics and audiences had to admit that the new flops did not begin to live up to the standard set by CARRIE. CARRIE was fascinating, thrilling, horrible, and unbelievable. The ads said, “There’s Never Been A Musical Like Her” – and there never would be again.”

While Broadway has had it’s share of musical triumphs, it has also seen hundreds of musicals that had brief runs, lost millions of dollars and broke the hearts of their creators and performers. The legendary catastrophe Carrie has inspired websites, blogs, unauthorized productions, rip-offs and imitations and even a petition to the authors asking them to release the performance rights. There are also countless live bootleg recordings of the entire show - both on audio and video, which has led a growing legion of fans to wonder just what went wrong.

Well, they may not have to wonder anymore. As of today it has been announced that this infamously short-lived 1988 Broadway musical will have a private reading in Manhattan in November. Stafford Arima (Altar Boyz, Tin Pan Alley Rag, Somewhere in Time, London's Ragtime) will direct the Equity reading; the industry presentation is Nov. 20. Musical direction is by Stephen Oremus (Wicked, 9 to 5).

Variety reports that Tony-winning producer Jeffrey Seller (In the Heights, Avenue Q, Rent) has reunited composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and book writer Lawrence D. Cohen to take another look at the property.

The cast will feature Foster (Shrek, Thoroughly Modern Millie) as gym teacher Ms. Gardner, Mazzie (Passion, Ragtime) as Margaret White, Molly Ranson (August: Osage County) as Carrie and Damiano (Next to Normal, Spring Awakening) as Sue.

Also revealed are "American Idol" finalist Diana DeGarmo (Hairspray, The Toxic Avenger) as Chris, Matt Doyle (Spring Awakening, Bye Bye Birdie) as Tommy and John Arthur Greene (West Side Story) as Billy.

The Carrie ensemble includes Corey Boardman (Next to Normal, Altar Boyz), Lilli Cooper (Spring Awakening), Katrina Rose Dideriksen (Things to Ruin), Benjamin Eakeley (Sweeney Todd), Emily Ferranti, Kyle Harris (The Cure), Philip Hoffman (A Catered Affair), Kaitlin Kiyan (Hair), Max Kumangai (What's That Smell?), Mackenzie Mauzy (White Noise), Preston Sadleir (Mrs. Sharp), Jonathan Schwartz (The Fantasticks) Bud Weber and Sasha Weiss (Jerry Springer).

On a personal note, I just adore Carrie the musical and hope that this time it works. The score is simply fantastic and no matter how it turns out, this is one theatrical event that promises to be most memorable.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

LOVE NEVER DIES - The Sequel That Gaston Leroux Somehow Forgot To Write. (click here for official website)

Ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical megahit Phantom of the Opera became a money-making juggernaut, the composer has feverishly been consumed with trying to top himself (if not artistically, then - at least - financially).

And so he gave us Aspects of Love (1989), which enjoyed a long (if undeserved) run in London’s West End. However, when the show transferred to the Great White Way in 1990, it received rather lackluster reviews. In fact, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote “Whether Aspects of Love is a musical for people is another matter.” (well...  ouch.)

Aspects of Love closed after only 377 performances, losing its entire $8 million investment and, according to the New York Times, “Making it perhaps the greatest flop in Broadway history.” (Although Cyrano the musical (1993) managed to topple that record.)

Next up for ALW was Sunset Boulevard. Most people are familiar with the famous Billy Wilder film starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson. It is classic cinema of the first magnitude and if you haven’t ever seen it, stop reading this and go rent it immediately. As to the Lloyd Webber incarnation, here was a show where the offstage shenanigans threatened to overshadow the onstage plot.

Originally cast as faded silent film star Norma Desmond was American diva extraordinaire Patti LuPone (Evita). Nobody believes that LuPone is more talented than Lupone herself, so it must have come as quite a shock to her when the show closed down for repairs, (after the London critics savaged it), and she was not asked back for the revamp. Instead, the producers brought in steely-voiced belter Betty Buckley (Cats). Buckley received excellent notices and LuPone sued and received a reported $1 million.

Simultaneously, the producers had a production of the Sunset revamp running in LA starring film star Glenn Close. When the stars of this production were ready to bring the show to Broadway, it was announced that Faye Dunaway would replace Close in LA. But alas, this was not to be. Lloyd Webber deemed that Dunaway’s voice was not up to snuff and he opted to close the LA production. Dunaway deemed this a breach of contract, also sued and won a reported cool million.

In his book The Hot Seat, Frank Rich noted that these lawsuits contributed to Sunset Boulevard setting the record for the most money lost by a theatrical endeavor in the history of the United States. According to The New York Times, operating costs soared far beyond the budget and the “Broadway production has earned back, at best, 80 percent of the initial $13 million”. Running costs and advertising fees exceeded ticket sale intake. The road companies also generated large financial losses. Rich puts the final figure near or above $20 million lost, making the show what he termed a “flop-hit,” as it ran more than two years.

Lloyd Webber’s next two shows (Whistle Down the Wind (1996) and The Beautiful Game (2000)) never even made it to Broadway and it would be five years until Broadway received his next effort, 2004's The Woman in White.

The Woman in White was based on the famous novel by Wilkie Collins. With lyrics by David Zippel and a book by Charlotte Jones, it ran for nineteen months in the West End and three months on Broadway in 2005, making it one of Lord Lloyd Webber’s least successful shows.

And now, God help us, The Phantom of the Opera is coming back - but this time, he'll be haunting the amusement park at New York's Coney Island. Star composer Andrew Lloyd Webber announced Thursday a long-awaited sequel to his massively successful Phantom, one of the world's best-loved and longest-running musicals.

'Till I Hear You Sing' video sung by Ramin Karimloo

Love Never Dies Press Launch

"There's unfinished business," Lloyd Webber told journalists assembled for a teaser - a new song featuring the titular Phantom, played by Iranian-born Canadian Ramin Karimloo, and his love interest, Christine, played by American actress Sierra Boggess - "I don't regard this as a sequel; it's a standalone piece,"

The new musical will be called Love Never Dies. It is due to open in London in March. It will also be staged in New York beginning in November 2010 and will open in Australia in 2011. The musical picks up a decade after the original's conclusion, and has the Phantom trading his customary hideout beneath the Paris opera house for Coney Island, the iconic Brooklyn amusement park known for its roller coasters and "Nathan's Famous" hot dogs.

Lloyd Webber said he wanted to produce a sequel because the original's ending, which sees Christine leave the brooding Phantom for his rival, Raoul, was unsatisfactory. "Christine goes off with this boring guy, the Phantom disappears," Lloyd Webber proclaimed. He said he wanted to set the piece at Coney Island because, at its turn-of-the-century heyday, it was "the eighth wonder of the world." "Think of Vegas and then triple it," he continued.

Lloyd Webber sketched out an outline of the plot, saying the Phantom made his way to Coney Island after losing Christine. The Phantom rises from one of the attractions at a freak show to control the entire complex, without ever losing his love for Christine.

Other characters from the original also reprise their roles. The original hit musical, a longtime fixture on the London and New York stages, featured elaborate staging and songs such as "The Music of the Night," and "All I Ask of You." Based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, the play is the longest-running show on Broadway, beating out Webber's other dubious hit, Cats, in 2006 and reaching an unprecedented 9,000 performances on the night of Sept. 17. Producers say it has been seen by more than 100 million people worldwide and has been translated into 15 languages and staged in 25 countries, including Brazil, China and Poland. The album of the show has sold more than 40 million copies.

But musical sequels on Broadway have tended to flop.

Annie, which opened in 1977, was one of Broadway's biggest hits, but Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge closed during its 1989 out of town tryout in Washington. The sequel to Bye Bye Birdie, a Tony-winning hit in 1960, died on Broadway in 1981 after only four performances. And does anyone recall the 1994 sequel to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?


Mr. Lloyd Webber avoided trying to predict the sequel's success. "I'm very happy with the piece and that's enough for me," he said.Love Never Dies had a difficult birth. The composer abandoned a previous attempt at a sequel more than decade ago, saying the story wasn't right. Frederick Forsyth, who the Lloyd Webber  said helped him with the idea, eventually published a novel, The Phantom of Manhattan, in 1999.

Director Jack O'Brien acknowledged that tampering with such a wildly popular music and theater franchise was dangerous. "No one's going to thank us for doing this," he said. "We're playing around with people's memories." But he defended the sequel, saying the years of back-and-forth made it a more solid work.

Naturally, a success would be another coup for the musical megastar, whose hits include Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Lloyd Webber's entertainment empire has made him one of Britain's richest men, with an estimated wealth of $1.2 billion, according to The Sunday Times of London Rich List

So could there ever be a sequel to the sequel?

Mr. Karimloo, who plays the Phantom, said he wasn't against the idea."Maybe somewhere warm," he said, joking that the Phantom "seems like an L.A. kind of guy." The composer was less enthusiastic. "There isn't going to a sequel set in Tahiti," he said. "I don't see how the story could possibly continue." Unless, of course, Love Never Dies manages to beat the odds and becomes a hit. But given Lord Lloyd Webber's track record since Phantom of the Opera opened, there almost seems little chance of that.

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