In the annals of Broadway history, no show—not even Spider-Man—holds the infamous reputation of Carrie: The Musical. Yes, it's based on that Stephen King novel about the telekinetic teenager who takes out her aggression on her taunting classmates and her abusive, religious mother. Famously turned into a classic horror film starring Sissy Spacek, the musical, written by Lawrence Cohen (who wrote the screenplay for the Brian De Palma film) and with music and lyrics by Fame's Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, was an immediate disaster, closing after 16 previews and five performances on Broadway. It soon became a cult hit; bootlegs of the show have popped up online, and the entire production from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon is on YouTube.
While it seems like an unlikely source material for a Broadway musical, Carrie, at its core, is a fairly simple story of an outsider striving for acceptance. (Sure, there's a supernatural mass-murder and menstruation thrown into the mix, too.) While the production of the original show was, by all accounts, a complete mess, the show was complimented for its compelling songs and the powerful performances of newcomer Linzi Hately and Betty Buckley as Carrie and Margaret White, respectively. (Many anecdotes of the show involve the crowds jumping out of their seats for standing ovations at the curtain call immediately following shouting boos at the stage after the final scene.)
Long due for a revival, Carrie: The Musical is back on the New York stage at MCC Theater's Lucile Lortell Theatre with a revised, surprising production now running through April. Starring in the title role is 22-year-old Molly Ranson, who delivers a powerful and emotional performance. We spoke with Ranson about her involvement in the new Carrie, working with Broadway legend Marin Mazzie, and the power of Carrie White.
You’ve been associated with this production for a couple years. You started with the original reading a few years ago?
Yeah, I auditioned for the creative team back in November 2009. I just had one audition and really hit it off with everyone, and I’ve been working on it ever since.
Were you familiar with the original production?
Not at all. I knew the movie—I've always loved it. I’m a big horror movie fan and love Carrie, but I didn’t know anything about the musical.
This new production which is considerably different, at least in tone, from the original. It's more realistic.
Oh, definitely. People have been approaching the writers for years, wanting to do a new version of it, but they didn't really take anyone seriously until [director] Stafford [Arima] came forward with his idea of changing the tone to focus on a real, relatable story of an outsider and playing down the campy supernatural aspects. Over the past two years we’ve really been working on how to fine-tune the show and let the story shine through past all the preconceived notions people have of the original. It’s been really interesting, and having the audience really inform that as well—getting unwanted laughs at certain points, figuring out what is landing in a way we don’t want it to land. It’s been really interesting finding the seriousness of it.
There’s a huge audience for this show—a mixture of people who saw the original and your regular theater fanatics who might expect a true revival of the original. Have you received pretty good responses from what it is now?
Yeah! It’s been really amazing since most people don’t really come to Carrie: The Musical thinking they’re going to be moved. But people have been really affected by the story, and we’re getting a lot of teenage, high-school kids saying that they really relate to the story and are so moved by it,. It is the story of an outsider, which anyone can relate to. It’s been great really finding that and having it go over so well.
You've been working with Marin Mazzie on this show for years. Considering her status as a seasoned Broadway performer, have you taken a lot from that experience?
I’ve learned so much from working with her. She’s just the sweetest, most generous actor you could ever wish to work with. We share a tiny, tiny dressing room, which could be really difficult if it were a difficult person, but she’s amazing and so nurturing. She's been supportive of me and helped me from the beginning.
I saw you in Jerusalem a few months ago, and you were in August: Osage County as well. You've worked on some pretty big projects and with very big names for someone with a short career.
I have no idea how that happened. I’ve been really lucky in that way. August: Osage County was my first job—it was the first play I ever did in my life! I’ve just been really lucky going from one amazing project to another in that way. And Mark Rylance was absolutely incredible to work with [in Jerusalem], and I’ve learned so much from him. I left school to do August, but I really feel I’ve been able to work with a lot of people who have been the best teachers I could possibly have.
Had you done any musical theatre before?
I grew up on movie musicals and doing musicals in elementary school. Then I went to high school for drama at LaGuardia. I actually played Mother in Ragtime, which is the role that Marin originated. It's a funny coincidence and helped me get the role; Stafford saw me on YouTube singing and called me in for the audition.
I saw it’s already been extended, has there been talk about moving it to a full Broadway production at all?
I mean, that’s definitely always that dream. We are hoping for another extension and to take this as far as we can go with it.
I think I saw somewhere that Betty Buckley came to a performance.
She did! It was so surreal. There was like a notice on the board saying we had a special guest and to stay for a photo after the show. She was so great and really loved our version of it. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for her to see it again. Piper Laurie [from the film] came to our first preview, and she loved it, too.
This is such a big role to step into because it seems like there’s a huge possibility of failure, especially because the original show was so infamous. Were you nervous about that?
I was nervous because it was my first big role and it was a very challenging role—emotionally, physically, vocally. I was more focused on being as prepared as I could be, but I wasn’t really thinking, like, “What if it sucks, will it be my fault?”
The rest of the cast is pretty young, too. Were they also involved in workshops?
One of our ensemble members was in the first reading we did, Corey [Boardman]. I think the cast has been consistent for the last two labs we did. The cast has changed throughout all the workshops, but I know we’ve finally found everyone who’s completely perfect for their roles.