Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Review of the "Carrie: Premiere Cast Recording" Soundtrack CD

The good old United States Postal Service delivered a package to me yesterday.  The contents of that package:
  • one (1) copy of the Bond 50 Blu-ray box set, containing all 22 of the films in the James Bond series, housed inside a nifty box replete with photos; and
  • one (1) copy of the Carrie: Premiere Cast Recording CD, which was released just this week by Ghost Light Records
Now, y'all know me.  You know I'm a big Stephen King fan, and odds are you know that I'm a big Bond fan, too.  It ought, therefore, to be fairly easy to figure out which of those items I was more excited about.  (Hint; it was the one I'm not blogging about right this very second.)

Nevertheless, I'm very happy to finally be able to say that I in some way own Carrie: The Musical.  I'm somewhat familiar with it already; a couple of years ago around this time (i.e., Halloween season), I did a bit of digging on the Internet to see if I could find some bootlegs of the original version of the show, and I had some success with that, at least as far as audio goes.  It's pretty low-quality stuff, though; bootlegs are better than nothing, but when something was recorded by a fan with a tape deck in their pocket, the result is typically going to be a bit less than awesome.

In any case, we now have something considerably better in the form of this official CD release.

What I'm going to do is just put the sucker on, listen to each song, and give you some impressions.  At some point down the road, I'd love to be able to do some sort of in-depth analysis of the differences between the various versions of the show, but that sort of write-up is beyond the scope of my interest at the moment.  Someday; just not this one.



Act I

Track 1, "In":  The various high-schooler characters fret over the stresses associated with being teenagers (such as fitting "in").  This opening number is a sort of melancholy rock-'n'-roll tune that seems designed to get the audience engaged in the show with a catchy melody, and it more or less works, at least on disc.


note: I have trawled the Internets looking for photos from the 2012 production to illustrate this post; the photos you will see may not necessarily actually BE from the numbers they accompany

Track 2, "Carrie":  Carrie laments the ways in which her classmates are constantly making fun of her.  Carrie, in this production, was played by Molly Ranson.  She's a good vocalist, and her style seems well-suited to Broadway-type performances.  As for the song itself, I like parts of it, and dislike others.

Overall...?  I don't think it works terribly well.  Here's part of the problem with staging a musical based on Carrie: Carrie herself, as a character, is by definition a wallflower for most of the story.  And yet, to have her onstage, belting out a big number like this one, belies that essential nature she has.  Now, having not seen the production itself, maybe there is an explanation; for example, it may be that this song is intended to be a representation of Carrie's thoughts process and her feelings, moreso than an actual expression she is making.  If that's the case, then maybe this number works better than I'm giving it credit for.


Molly Ranson as Carrie White

Track 3, "Open Your Heart":  This somewhat gospel-like number begins with an address by a Reverend Mathew Bliss, and then leads into Margaret and Carrie singing a hymn together.  This is a short number, and it's not bad, but I doubt it'll be a favorite for many listeners.

Track 4, "And Eve Was Weak":  This number is essentially Margaret White chastising Carrie for the events of the day (i.e., her menstruation, which Margaret sees as evidence of Carrie's sins).  This is the kind of overwrought showtune that you can easily imagine Trey Parker and Matt Stone lampooning.  It's very mockable.  And yet, I rather enjoyed it.  Both Marin Mazzie (who plays Margaret) and Ranson are obviously highly competent performers, and that makes a world of difference.

I particularly enjoy the straightforward way Mazzie has of clipping off her "sentences" here.  Even when she is singing in a musical, Margaret doesn't go in for much nonsense!


Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson


Track 5, "The World According to Chris":  It's a Broadway tradition for the villains to have numbers wherein they get to reveal their personalities and whatnot, so here we get a number called "The World According to Chris."  It consists basically of a conversation between Chris & Billy and Sue & Tommy.

While listening to this, it occurred to me that it sorta of vaguely reminded me of "Popular" from Wicked, and in doing a little research I learned that Jeanna De Waal, who plays Chris here, has also played Glinda in Wicked.  

I'm not a fan of this particular song.  It's sung well by all involved, but it isn't much AS a song.


l to r: Ben Thompson (Billy Nolan), Jeanna De Waal (Chris Hargensen), Christy Altomare (Sue Snell), and Derek Klena (Tommy Ross)

Track 6, "Evening Prayers":  Carrie sings a prayer, which quotes a bit of the King novel, and this leads into Margaret singing about her need to not let Carrie "stumble and fall."  From here, it turns into a duet between Mazzie and Ranson.  It's not bad; again, a bit overwrought.

Track 7, "Dreamer In Disguise":  Turns out Tommy Ross is a dreamer in disguise.  Also, apparently, a diamond in the rough; does this mean he'll be robbing people in Agrabah at some point soon.

This isn't much of a song, sadly.  Again, it's sung well (by Derek Klena here), so if nothing else, it seems like this production had a very solid cast.


Derek Klena and Molly Ranson


Track 8, "Once You See":  Sue sings a song lamenting -- or is it celebrating? -- the fact that Carrie has revealed herself to Sue, and once you see someone you can't unsee them.  Another brief song, performed well, that doesn't stand out much on its own.


Christy Altomare


Track 9, "Unsuspecting Hearts":  This song involves Miss Gardner more or less giving Carrie a pep talk.  It's a pretty good ballad, and Carmen Cusack does a good job as Miss Gardner (who inexplicably seems to be a Southerner, but that's okay; some people, including yours truly, are).


Molly Ranson and Carmen Cusack


Track 10, "Do Me a Favor":  Sue and Chris, respectively, ask Tommy and Billy to do them prom-centric favors.  This is a sorta sultry, nasty song that emphasizes the fact that both Sue and Chris are (in their different ways) using sex to get what they want.  Not a bad song.

Track 11, "I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance":  The Act I closer involves Carrie asking her mother permission to go to the prom with Tommy.  This doesn't go very well.  I like how the melody from "Evening Prayers" appears underneath the song.

After this, the song transitions to Margaret remembering her own troubled past, which doesn't particularly sway Carrie into seeing things her way.

Act-enders are (as far as I can tell; I'm no expert on musicals) typically designed to be showstoppers, and as far as that goes, this one is pretty good, although it sorta peters out whereas you might expect it to build and build.  I wish there was a filmed performance available for purchase; I suspect that actually seeing all of these numbers in their proper context would be a big help.


"I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance"

Act II

Track 12, "A Night We'll Never Forget":  An amusing song in which some of the background characters sing about how they hope they get laid after the prom, and how they're all stocked up on weed, and how annoying it is that the tux costs eighty bucks.  Meanwhile, Carrie worries about her complexion, Chris and Billy kill a pig, and so forth.  It's a montage scene, and those are always rife with fail potential, but this one works pretty well.


Chris and Billy

Track 13, "You Shine":  A ballad sung by Tommy to Sue, in which he goes on and on about how much he loves her.  This is a deeply sappy song; I didn't care for it much.  It's not bad, though, and my guess is that it probably plays a heck of a lot better within the context of the show itself.

Track 14, "Why Not Me?":  The first part of this song song seems to be a montage scene involving everyone leaving for the prom, but it soon turns into a song in which Carrie is (pardon the pun) psyching herself up to go out and have a good time.  Other girls have a good time at things like proms, she reasons; "why not me?"

Pretty good song.

Track 15, "Stay Here Instead":  Margaret does her damnedest to convince Carrie to stay home instead of going to the prom, promising her they can do anything Carrie wants to do.  It's kinda touching in a way.  Margaret is obviously trying her best to be a good, nice person, but she isn't all that great at it.  Part of the song is a reprise of "Carrie" with mother singing to daughter.  One of the things I like about musicals that they can accomplish where other forms of media can't is that reprises of songs can be extremely effective, especially when they're unexpected, like here.

Again, I suspect this song is even better when seen in its proper context.

Track 16, "When There's No One":  Margaret sings this sad ballad, in which she seems convinced she won't be living with Carrie much longer.  She's sorta right...

This is a good song, sung very well by Mazzie, but part of me wonders if Margaret isn't being portrayed a bit too sympathetically.  That's one way to go with the material, I suppose, and I'd much rather have that be the case than for the whole thing to descend into camp (as I feel it does with Piper Laurie's performance in the original movie).  It turns the story into more of a tragedy than a horror story, but that seems like a valid direction, especially for a musical.

Track 17, "Prom Arrival":  This is partially a reprise of "A Night We'll Never Forget," covering Carrie and Tommy's arrival at the prom.  Good, but it basically just moves the plot along.  At this point, I feel a little concerned that there won't actually be all that many more musical opportunities over the course of the remainder of the story, in which case the CD might feel a bit unbalanced.

Let's find out!

Track 18, "Unsuspecting Hearts (Reprise)":  Another reprise!  Miss Gardner asks Carrie how the prom is going; it's going pretty well.

Track 19, "Dreamer In Disguise (Reprise)":  And another reprise!  I say that as though I'm complaining, but I'm not.  I actually kinda like the Reprise version of this song.

Track 20, "Prom Climax":  This song opens with a mildly John Carpenter-esque bass line and leads into Chris and Billy's plan mounting to the verge of fruition.  "A Night We'll Never Forget" is reprised again, which is fine by me.

Track 21, "Alma Mater":  Tommy and Carrie are announced as king and queen of the prom, and the school's alma mater is sung.  Sue shows up and tries to warn Miss Gardner that something is wrong.  Billy pulls the cord, leading directly into the next track.

Track 22, "The Destruction":  A vicious reprise of first "Carrie" and then "And Eve Was Weak" and "Open Your Heart" accompanies Carrie's panic, which leads to her wrecking the prom and killing most of her classmates in a fit of telekinetic fury.  A piano version of the melody to "I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance" comes in, as does the melody of "Evening Prayers."

This seems as if it would be an extremely powerful moment in the production, although part of me wonders whether it could be pulled off on stage from an effects standpoint.





Track 23, "Carrie (Reprise)":  Margaret sings a lullaby to her daughter, which seemingly leads to her plunging a knife into her daughter, after which Carrie uses her telekinetic powers to stop her mother's heart.  None of that is represented in the song, though, so you'll have to fill in the blanks for yourself.




Track 24, "Epilogue":  Essentially a reprise of "Once You See," this show-ending tune leaves us wondering, along with Sue, how Carrie's fate could have been different.  It ends the show on a somber note, and it sorta feels to me as if some sort of grander musical gesture was called for in order to send people out on some sort of high note.  It's not bad; it just feels a bit flat.  Again, seeing the performance might change that.

*****

Final thoughts:

Overall, this is a pretty good CD.  The music isn't awesome or anything, but it's mostly good, and if it ends up being like most other cast recordings I've listened to without the benefit of having first seen the musical itself, it'll grow on me over time as the beats of the story become more and more familiar.

I can't honestly claim to be a huge fan of the musical, but it's not by any means bad (as presented here, at least), and if nothing else, it's nice to have a major hole in the King universe plugged finally.  Pardon that pun.

The CD is packaged with a 44-page booklet that includes all the lyrics, as well as some good photos and an essay by writer Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the book for the musical, as well as the screenplay for the 1976 movie).  In terms of its presentation, this is a classy affair, and for musical fans and hardcore King collectors, I'd say it's well worth picking up a copy.

3 comments:

  1. This is way off topic, however since the big event is days away here goes the following:

    Tim Burton/Frankenweenie update.

    The movie opens nationwide this Friday, this being Wednesday allows time for the following. idea.

    I came across this quote by the scriptwriter, John August: "The original (Frankenweenie) short is very much the Frankenstein short done with a dog, and it’s terrific. We knew we had that aspect and the question was, we’d love to have more monsters in there, but if we’re going to put more monsters in there, let’s be true to their mythology and their origins, and their origins tend to be “science gone wrong,” like mistakes of science. Well, Victor was science gone right so I needed to be able to approach it with a logic and Rzykruski is a huge portion of my writing the emotional logic for science is neither good nor evil, science is a tool that lets you do things and you can do good things or you can do bad things and Victor bringing back Sparky is a good thing and that’s the message of the movie and he did it out of love and that’s a very good thing. The other boys make monsters because they’re doing very bad things, and that’s sort of the origin of most of the other monsters of the world, you know the classic 50’s horror movie monsters, so it was a good way to expand our world and allow the monsters into our universe… it’s still a movie about a boy and his dog, but now you can talk about these other things because we have the time."

    I remember reading a Jeff Katzenberg interview in which he said pretty much the same thing, the idea being that one experiment turns out right because of good intentions and another goes wrong because of the same old human vices i.e. greed, jealousy etc. This struck me as a quintessential Stephen King theme. In fact I'm pretty sure he said something to the same effect as Katzenberg and August.

    This got me thinking that the perfect way to go into this film prepared is read up the following chapters from Danse Macabre, as I'll bet the themes discussed in "Tales of the Hook" and "The Modern American Horror Movie-Text and Subtext" and "Tales of the Tarot" will play out on the screen.

    Two ideas King discusses will, I think, be relevant to Burton's film. In the "Hook" chapter, King writes about social reactions to deformity and when it crosses a fundamental line, and cites things like zits, warts etc. in particular reference to I was a Teenage Frankenstein (which King describes as "a sick parable of total glandular breakdown" i.e. pimples).

    In the "Horror Movie" chapter and "Tarot, King discusses science run amok and the lack of responsibility that goes with it. In particular is this one selection from Tarot" that I can't help but wonder if it'll play a part.

    Speaking of the original Frankenstein monster and King Kong, King says: "We see the horror of being a monster in the eyes of Boris Karloff and, later, in those of Christopher Lee; in King Kong it is spread across the ape's entire face, due in no small part to the marvelous special effects of Willis O'Brien. The result is almost a cartoon of the friendless, dying outsider. It's one of the great fusions of love and horror, innocence and terror, the emotional reality which Mary Shelley only suggests in her novel."

    Now maybe I'm reading too much into this, however it's certainly something to keep in mind as the first reel starts

    ChrisC

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    Replies
    1. I watched the movie Monday night, and am happy to report that it's a pretty good flick. Maybe not quite a classic, but definitely good, especially for monster-movie fans.

      I don't want to give much away, but I had a bit of a problem with one element. There is a very on-the-nose subtheme involving a teacher who is angered by people who are too stupid to properly understand the importance of science. That's fine by me, but I think the movie pulls the punch a bit in terms of fulfilling that subtheme.

      Apart from that, though, it's good stuff. Beautiful animation, a good Danny Elfman score, quality monster action. It isn't going to be a hit, though; the kids who love it will LOVE it, but many of them will be confused by it, and it's really for kids aged 35-60 anyways.

      It's good second-tier Burton, though, so if that sort of thing is up your alley, it's well worth checking out.

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    2. Well that's good to know. Looking forward to any possible review in the near future.

      Those chapters by King are still worth a look, and as regards the film's sub-theme, all I can say is it's par for the course however strident.

      It ties in neatly with a John Wyndham line that King quotes: Blessed be the Norm (Hey everybody. NORM!!!). Watch thou for the Mutant.

      This brings to mind the protagonist's Dad. I haven't seen the film yet, though I've read enough reviews to know it's really the father who gets the ball rolling (no spoilers).

      His concern, in King terms, is that his son is turning into the mutant, so to speak, and encourages him to get out more among his peers. The only problem is the kid's peers are almost all mutants in one form or another. This could be extended to the adults, yet I think all they want, again in King terms, is "To be good."

      The logic is fuzzy I know, and I may revise where necessary. Either way it explains the film for me.

      ChrisC



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