NEW YORK -- After what happened to Carrie White the last time she went to the prom, it's a wonder she ever returned. As for those of you in the theater seats, you may wonder why you came at all.
The MCC Theater's re-imagined production of "Carrie" that opened Thursday at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street is an attempt to reclaim what must be assumed is a stirring work evidently lost in the 1988 original, one of Broadway's most notorious failures.
The result may be better, but it's nowhere near good. Some lovely music is marred by a patronizing, out-of-touch book, an overwrought tone and characters that seem as light and insubstantial as an after-school TV special.
How bad is it? The new version directed by Stafford Arima produced quite a few titters during a recent preview. That's not good news: It's not a comedy. While it's not clear what "Carrie" is trying to be, it's not supposed to be funny.
Originally a novel by Stephen King about a shy teen with telekinetic powers who struggles against her overbearing mother and gets a gore-drenched prom, the story was turned into a 1976 Brian De Palma film.
Lawrence D. Cohen, the film's screenwriter, turned it into a theater piece along with music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford. What emerged was a mess not entirely their fault, but it closed after five regular performances, lost $8 million and became the most expensive flop in Broadway history at the time.
Cohen, Gore and Pitchford deserve credit for returning to try to tease out their original intention, and in some ways the times have caught up with some of the themes in King's original novel: bullying and religious fundamentalism.
But even with the addition of Arima and a cast led by the talented Marin Mazzie ("Next to Normal") as Carrie's mother and the up-and-coming Molly Ranson in the title role, it's a bloody mess. Not enough has been done to make it better, and it veers into camp when it really doesn't want to.
"Something terrible's going to happen!" says one character in a typical overshare, and she's right.
The character of Carrie might be able to move chairs on the stage by using just her mind, but actually getting the seats filled in the theater night after night might be beyond her powers.
There's simply too much and yet not enough here. The story of Carrie White is both the story of a superhero and a nerd who becomes a princess. It's also about the push-pull of mother-daughter relationships. It's about angst and being popular and growing up. But not all of it can fit and that's why the beautifully voiced Mazzie is a one-note religious psycho who simply quotes scripture, while Ranson's transformation from dork to beauty to potential mass murderer has to be rushed.
Some of the returning songs – "In," "Open Your Heart" and "Unsuspecting Hearts" – are still quite nice, and some of the new ones – the pretty "You Shine," "The World According to Chris" and "A Night We'll Never Forget" – fit in nicely.
What doesn't fit is the attempt from a group of men on the other side of 40 to sound like teenagers. The action is updated to present day, but the dialogue and lyrics smack of "Porky's."
"Oh, c'mon, church-girl – dance with me. I'll make you see God," the head bully teases Carrie at one point, although he looks more like he's in grad school than high school. In one song, three boys sing: "We better get laid! It's the least we deserve, after everything we've paid."
Two secondary characters – Tommy, the cliched big-hearted star football player and secret novelist (a solid Derek Klena) and his girlfriend, the all-around Miss Perfect who tries to show compassion to Carrie (an underused Christy Altomare) – look lifted from Archie Comics. One thing that might get cut immediately: the closeted gay bully who has a fondness for his male friends.
The adults fare no better. A meddling gym teacher played by Carmen Cusack, who along with a Will Schuester character will make you want to go home and see "Glee" instead, at one point asks the bullying girls: "Do any of you stop to think that Carrie White has feelings? Do any of you ever stop to think?" Uh, like, no.
There are some nice touches, like the projections by Sven Ortel of candles, crosses and bright colors against David Zinn's simple set that mostly consists of a pair of gym doors. The final frenzy of Carrie's anger leaves her tormentors splattered against the back wall nicely, and the lack of an actual blood bath in favor of the digital kind is a relief.
Maybe "Carrie" simply cannot be turned into a good musical. Please no third try: No one can bear a re-imagining of this re-imagining. Maybe we should take advice from the musical and just suck it up: "All this high-school drama, none of it means anything," one character says. "Before you know it, it'll all be over."