Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Review of "Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops"

Hands up if you read while you're on the toilet...
  
I mean, honestly, what else are you going to do?  Sit there and think about politics?  Have imaginary conversations in your head between Sean Connery's James Bond and Roger Moore's James Bond?  Play Tetris?
  
No, of course you read.
  
For me, choosing a poop-time book is a matter of finding something that I can typically read in chunks that are either as small or as large as they need to be, which means that it can't be something too engrossing, lest it cause me to want to stay there longer than I actually need to be there.  But it also needs to be a book which, if the visit turns out to be relatively quick, can be easily put aside without leaving me with the sense that I've abandoned something.
  
Which brings me to this:
  
  
  
  
By the way, no; I'm not back.  Not really-for-real back, at least.  That'll happen eventually -- and the sooner the better -- but for now, work is still demanding too much of my mental energy for me to use my downtime to do anything but mindlessly veg out.  So it's been a lot of sorting digital comic books while listening to Burt Bacharach for me lately; not a bad use of time, that, but not conducive to blogging.
  
Anyways, when I put the blog on hiatus back in December, I'd already begun working my way through Ken Mandelbaum's Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops during my movement time.  Having finally finished it over five months later -- I am, unlike some, prone to dump out expediently (you're welcome) -- I figured it would be a shame not to drop a review of it.
  
And so here we are.
  
Mandelbaum published this 372-page overview in 1991, when the musical version of Carrie was a mere three years in its early grave.  We are living in 2015, and the retooled version of the musical is three years old; it never went to Broadway, but it pops up with considerable frequency in community productions.  It's too early to say it's achieve immortality, but it has certainly had a second life.  A big part of the reason for that is that musical-theatre fans talked about Carrie incessantly from 1988-2011 or so.
  
Why?
  
No, seriously: why?  It's a valid question.
  
I first encountered the musical without even knowing I was doing so.  When I began reading King in 1990, I bought all of his books that I could find, and most of them came from The Book Rack, a local used-book seller.  The copy they sold me looked like this:
  
  
   
  
Apologies for how small that image is.  I've had no luck finding a larger one, and my copy of that edition of the book is long gone, discarded when I got a hardback.  Fool!  Apparently copies of this edition are difficult to find now; or at least, my searching for a cheap one to buy has yielded no results.  Either way, doesn't; what's important is that THAT was the copy that introduced me to Carrie, and even though it does not say so, it uses key art from the musical (and was almost certainly a tie-in edition).
  
For reference, here is a poster for the musical:
  
  
  
  
I think I first became aware that a musical version of Carrie existed thanks to reading about it in George Beahm's book The Stephen King Companion.  It includes a two-page review of the musical, and I distinctly remember my mind being blown by the knowledge that somebody thought a musical version of Carrie was a good idea.

As the years went by and my King fandom increased, I encountered references to the musical from time to time, and eventually it began to bum me out that I would (it seemed) never get to see/hear Carrie for myself.  I had no thoughts in mind that I was missing anything of quality; no, this was a sort of sense of emptiness known only to completists, who want to be able to experience EVERY corner of their particular area(s) of interest, no matter how dark and dank.  Folks, I own and have seen Creepshow 3.  I am a completist when it comes to King to that level of idiocy.

So when I gave any consideration to the question of "why?" as it relates to the longevity of the cult behind the Carrie musical, I assumed that it was due to people like myself, who were fans of the novel and/or the Brian DePalma movie, who were -- from a completist's standpoint -- aggrieved at being denied the experience of this particular adptation.

I went right on assuming that right up until I began reading Not Since Carrie, which informed me of something that makes perfect sense in retrospect, yet which was something I had never considered before: Broadway fans specifically and musical-theatre fans in general have their own sort of collection/completism mentality.  To be more precise, there is a subset of fans who absolutely treasure the experience of having been in attendance for a flop.

Why?

Think about it: the longest-running musical in Broadway history is (if Google has not failed me) The Phantom of the Opera, which has run since -- coincidentally -- 1988 for well over 11,000 performances.  The rest of the top 100 shows with the best longevity all ran for over a thousand shows.

The Broadway version of Carrie had a grand total of five.  That number grows if you count the 16 preview performances (and, alas, I am still unclear as to precisely what the difference between a preview and a "real" performance is in a Broadway context), but the difference between 11,000 and 21 is scarcely more titanic than the difference between 11,000 and 5.

The bottom line: Carrie was a scarcity.  Perhaps you now begin to see where the collector mentality comes into play.  Just as book collectors will salivate over a rare edition of a book, a "collector" of Broadway performances will treasure the experience of having been in attendance for a show that had a miniscule run.  From what I can gather, it is impossible to know when that might happen.  What I mean by that is: if you were were one of the people who attended one of those 5-21 performances/previews, you did so mostly with no knowledge that you were attending something which would turn out to be a treasured flop.  In fact, you probably thought that the credentials alone would ensure a run of at least average length.

So imagine how much it must thrill a Broadway collector -- especially one who treasures flops -- to have been in attendance for Carrie.  Add in an elevated prominence thanks to the well-known source material and you have a recipe for continued discussion down through the years.

Some of that became apparent to me right off the bat from reading Not Since Carrie, and the resurrection of the musical made more sense.  The King connection had far less to do with this than I had considered, which is fascinating to me.  But in its own way, it helps to prove how successful King's novel is, artistically-speaking: an adaptation's success can, to some extent, be measured by the degree to which it flourishes outside of the fanbase for the source material.  In this case, the musical is almost an anti-success; it didn't flourish at all.

Or did it?  I mean, after all, a revamped production was mounted and plays regularly around the world in various community and school theatres.  A cast recording (reviewed by yours truly here) was finally issued, which is by no means the case for all flops.  People are still talking about that musical nearly thirty years later.  Part of this is due to the King connection, true; but only part, and maybe not even a majority part.

Which, in its way, proves the novel's strength.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

So, what about Not Since Carrie?  Is it worth your time, fellow King-phile?  Well, it was worth my time; whether it is worth yours I cannot say.  Only about fifteen pages of the book are devoted to Carrie (an opening section and a closing one), which leaves nearly 360 pages' worth of talk about flop musicals down through the years.  Mandelbaum is an enthusiastic, well-informed, and opinionated tour guide, and you will certainly feel as if you know more about musicals afterward than you did going in.  Only you know if that sort of thing is for you.  Not being a particular fan of musicals, yet not being opposed to them, I was only passingly engaged by that stuff.

But I think it did enrich my understanding of the genre, which in turn enriched my understanding of the Carrie musical; which, yes, enriched my King fandom.  Mandelbaum approaches Carrie from the standpoint of being a fan of both the novel and the movie, and he finds the musical to be a mixed bag.  And yet, the production was not merely a flop, but such a notorious one that he is on solid ground when stating that for years to come, when queried about some aspect of a new flop, Broadway fans will begin to answer that query by saying "Not since Carrie" (i.e., "not since Carrie has there been a trainwreck like this one").

Good stuff.  If you are only minimally interested, the book is still worth reading for the two Carrie sections, assuming you find a cheap copy.  If you have an interest in the subject beyond that, my recommendation goes from a qualified one to a more enthusiastic one.

For more info on the Carrie musical itself, this blog post is a great overview with some good images.

And now, my hiatus resumes.  Got to go pick me out a new poop-time book, too...

P.S.  Go see Mad Max: Fury Road.  It is the most metal thing I've ever seen.  It's like the Iron Maiden album covers had a baby with pro wrestling and then went for a very long drive.  It immediately enters the conversation of "what is the best action movie ever made?" and is likely to be talked about reverently for decades to come.

I'll give you an example.  I'm reluctant to do so, because it's almost a surprise which deserves not to be ruined; but your knowledge of it will only increase your enjoyment, not decrease it, so here goes.  The bad guys spend what I would call about 100 minutes of the 120-minute runtime in vehicular pursuit of the good guys.  There is a whole caravan of baddies, too, driving cars and buses and big-rigs and dune buggies and who knows what all else.  Most of these are crammed full of soldiers who can be deployed onto enemy vehicles so as to destroy or capture them.

One of the vehicles in this armada is devoted -- entirely, so far as I could tell -- to a pack of roughly six people who in the back, banging away on taiko drums.  On the front is a guy who is playing the electric guitar, presumably as a means of motivating his fellow soldiers and intimidating their prey.  The rest of the vehicle appears to be wheels, engine, and speakers.

I shit you not, this guy shreds for what seems to be days and days on end, the longest guitar solo known to man.

It's the most metal thing I've ever seen; it's the most metal thing you've ever seen.  It may, in fact, redefine "metal."

Amazingly, the rest of the movie is up to that standard of excellence.  So go see it, and tell 'em The Truth Inside The Lie sent ya.

17 comments:

  1. I love that endorsement of "Fury Road!" Can't wait to check it out.

    This sounds like it'd be a fun book, especially for bathroom "leisure time."

    Choosing the right book for that is definitely a process. Myself, I've got "The Eisenhower Highway System and National Parks Service Guide to YOUR National Parks" from the 50s. Got it at a library sale for a dollar. 300+ pages of full-color photos and quaint descriptions.

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    1. Photo-rich books are definitely good purposes of this nature. I've got a couple of Bond-related books that are on the docket for consumption in such a manner soon.

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  2. Not to try to drag you back from retirement (however appropriate that might be for the following question), but have you read Finders Keepers yet? Just curious about your point of view.

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    1. STILL haven't finished it! It hasn't taken me this long to read a new King novel in two decades, I bet. Not the book's fault, though; I'm enjoying it very much so far. About two-thirds of the way through.

      I do plan to write a review once I finish. I appreciate your interest!

      What did you think of the book?

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    2. (Glad you will be reviewing it! I'll look forward to it.)

      I think I'm in the minority in preferring Mr. Mercedes--despite a handful of flaws, I really liked how the grittier, more downbeat and Bachman-like tone of that contrasted with and illuminated its treatment of my favorite King plot, the Disparate People Coming Together to Fight Evil. I wasn't as interested in the Finders Keepers characters, ultimately, and where the storyline with Brady goes strikes me as less interesting than it could have been. (Vagueness to avoid spoilers.) But I definitely didn't *dislike* it: I thought the good vs. bad fan meditations were interesting, and I continue to like how contemporary and sort of grimly "every major American city" the setting is, with the failing real estate market, the prescription pill addiction, the concern about schools, etc. Thematically and setting-wise, it really intrigued me, it just didn't stay with me the way my favorite King novels do.

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    3. I've found myself wondering if when the trilogy is complete, the whole thing will seem better as a whole; there are definitely themes in book two that make book one seem stronger for me.

      I hope to finish tomorrow night. Enjoying it so far!

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    4. I like that idea! There are certain things you can't judge until they're a unified whole. I'm now trying to think about Finders Keepers's themes in relationship to Mr. Mercedes and coming up with some cool things--but I'll save that for when you do a review. :-)

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    5. I should have posted a follow-up comment here, but neglected to do so -- I finally finished reading "Finders Keepers." I have reservations, particularly regarding the Brady story. Based on what you already said, we're on the same wavelength with that.

      I think I might have ended up preferring this one to "Mr. Mercedes," but if so, not by much.

      Still got plans to write a review. But I'm considering circling back to "Revival" and writing a deeper one on that first, and then doing the same for "Finders Keepers." Probably won't happen for a while, though.

      :(

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    6. I look forward to the reviews whenever you have the time for them! :-)

      SPOILERS FOR FINDERS KEEPERS/MR MERCEDES

      Like you said, we're on the same page re: reservations about the twist involving Brady. I'd liked the idea that this trilogy would be grounded in a kind of grimy realism and looking at how people were able to live with, and sometimes heroically transcend, this particular setting: adding the supernatural gives us a more familiar King story (which is not to say I'm not still interested--more just that I'd been liking the variety). But, if I'm going to be fair, I think part of the reason I was lukewarm on the Brady twist is that it kind of spoils my pet interpretation of the end of Mr. Mercedes. With all the other characters not just rebuilding their lives but expanding them and making new connections, having Brady wake up and ask for his mother seemed like a grounded thematic extension of some of King's points from The Stand: namely, that evil is inherently uncreative and dull. I liked that connection, and I liked that it gave Brady a kind of pitiable tragic dimension: to paraphrase Gone Girl, we can feel bad for him because he has to wake up every day and be himself. The new angle sort of jettisons that: his endurance is spooky and powerful, not a sign of how dead his controlling philosophy of resentment makes him. Ah, well. Like I said, I'm still interested in where King will go next with this. And as I'm not Annie Wilkes (or Morris Bellamy), I can bear my slight personal disappointment with grace and aplomb. :-)

      In the meantime, I really appreciate you taking the time to reply to comments even though you're busy! I always find that having these conversations makes me think more, and more deeply, about the book at hand.

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    7. I like your interpretation of the end of "Mr. Mercedes" a lot. And yeah, obviously, I'm with you: I regret this story taking a turn from the mundane into the fantastic. But since I've followed King into so many realms of fantasy, I suppose I'm game for another. I've enjoyed both of these books, and I suspect I'll enjoy the third one as well.

      No need to thank me for replying to the comments -- I LOVE getting and responding to comments! I've got plenty of time for that; I just (currently) don't have the time to write the sort of posts I prefer to write. It's not even the time so much as it is the mental energy; I'm using WAY more of that at work than I used to, and these days when I get home I just want to sort of turn the mind off for a while.

      But it's not going to last forever. I hope for things around here to be back to normal before 2016.

      In the meantime, comment away!

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  3. Well this is a bit late on arrival, but so far my thoughts on the current episode of Under the Dome can be summed up as follows: this had better not be a waste of my time, damn it (he wrote in a low groan).

    Here's the thing that kind of worries me about this season. It's that they start out with a developing premise that sounds interesting and reminiscent of It. They could have made the entire season take place in what could have been a feeding pen and have various characters taken down in the most gruesome fashion possible, all the way the main characters struggle to find a way out. That would have been interesting, I think by gosh! Instead, a good sounding premise gets the plug pulled, and except for the death of Benny, we're back to square one.

    It makes me worried that the network thinks the best way to go about this type of material is to play it safe, when the best course of would be to go all out fire sale. Maybe the next few episodes will prove me wrong. According to Hans Lilja, some producer comments he's seen make him think this show will be the last season. To quote a line from King: Seems unlikely, but one can always hope". If Lilja should be right I just hope they remember to ram things up to a fever pitch for this material.

    ChrisC

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    1. The show's writers still manage to have occasional good ideas. They then proceed to squander each and every one of them utterly, and are let down even further by poor production qualities.

      I felt bad for everyone involved with that season premiere. Absolute garbage. It makes me think that "Under the Dome" may end up winning the prize as THE worst of all King adaptations. Stiff competition, but have any of the other trainwrecks managed to do so complete a job of wasting the premise upon which they were based? Even the ones which have managed to do so at a much more abbreviated runtime; this thing is going to end up running damn near forty episodes, at a minimum!

      Yikes.

      Thanks for chiming in on the show, Chris! I'm not going to have time to blog about the series on a weekly basis, but I will definitely be watching, and will MOST definitely have opinions. So feel free to drop by and leave comments -- they will be highly welcome!

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    2. Well, after two weeks...

      ...Katniss Everdeen....Let me repeat that, they reference the frickin' gosh damn Hunger Games! Of all the signs that a show is beyond desperate, that has to be number one.

      The sort of ironic news is the Lilja's Library podcast has an episode up in which they discuss these last three episodes:

      http://www.liljas-library.com/article.php?id=4534

      I don't think there's much I can say about the last few episodes that they don't cover. In particular I agree with Lou Sytsma when he points out the biggest problem: the show seems to be more or less without direction. Which is odd as one of the showrunners originally said that they had the ending already. If that's still the case (unless there's been a rewrite or two I don't know about) well then its more directionless padding that does little to build either character or drama. Hell, I've seen actual video games whose storylines hold better despite all kinds of optional side plots.

      The one thing I'm kind of on the fence on, as opposed to Lilja and Sytsma, is this. I said the idea of the town being kept in a kind of feeding pen and being picked off by aliens sounded cool, only to have it revert back to status quo. Now I'm wondering if they still aren't going to try and go that route, only back in the Dome. I don't know, and I have a lot of misgivings, because even if they do go that route, while the basic set up sounds okay, there's still this padding and soap opera theatrics that's being shoved in unnecessarily.

      I don't know. All I'm certain of is that I'm going to be watching these next few weeks with a kind of resigned dread.

      ChrisC

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    3. I haven't even watched the two most recent episodes yet -- I literally keep forgetting to do so! I'm going to try to knock those out tonight, though. It sounds like they are pretty dang bad.

      No surprise there.

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    4. This series, I tell ya. First it jerks you in one direction, then it veers off into another. I guess I wouldn't mind if I could just be sure what was happening was either good or bad.

      Here's the thing, at first it looks like its going to be the same old routine; a bunch of soap opera filler, people go back and forth, nothing ever gets done and the story doesn't move forward.

      Instead, what I get is the unveiling of an alien plot (complete with an actual glimpse of the aliens at one point), choosing of battle lines, and a potential end of the world.

      Remember when I once theorized it would be kinda interesting if "Dome" were to become a sort of "anti-Mist"? Well, it didn't exactly become that, but it did go part of the way there. What's happened is the show writers seem to have taken the element of the meteor shower from the novel and turned it literally apocalyptic. It appears to have destroyed the rest of the world outside the dome...Maybe. The last minute appearance of an online phone call before the credits rolled seems to imply some revenant that survived, I don't know.

      All I can surmise from what I've seen is that the producers seem to be FINALLY kicking the main plot of the series into action (if that's even possible). They said before that they had a plan for the series, and it seems to involve (from what I could tell) most of human civilization wiped out by a comet storm, preserving the town and its inhabitants under the dome. The problem is, the townspeople are having to fight off being possessed by a group of body snatchers from out space, so things are kind of tangled right about now....

      ...The funny thing is, after writing all that, I still think better of Twin Peaks.

      I don't know what this means, or where things are going, but the end teaser promised another thing I wondered about, battle lines are being drawn, and of all things Barbie seems to be with the villains, and Jim is supposed to be the good guy now??!!#%!

      I tell ya, this series.

      To be concluded.

      ChrisC

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    5. One more thing.

      Like I said above, I don't know whether things in a good direction or bad, in spite (because?) of the pace picking up.

      With that said, the plot developments described above do open at least one window of opportunity. Namely situating the "Dome series" within the King canon....Sort of.

      If the majority of the outside world gets destroyed, then that would mean the Dome story takes place outside the normal setting King uses for the majority of his stories (i.e. the world of Derry, Castle Rock, Salem's Lot, Desperation etc.) and instead takes place in its own reality. If that's true (and if any of this even makes sense (not really)) then...honestly, I could drag the Tower into this (in fact King may have referenced it in the season 2 premiere) however I leave such speculations to others. All I feel comfortable asserting is that this series doesn't take place in the universe King has established as his usual base of operations. I'm afraid I still don't know whether these developments are good or bad, and right now its sort of become a bitch not having an outline in hand so I can point to it and say, "okay, however crazy it get, here's where it all ends up."

      It can get aggravating deciding to tough out some material sometimes.

      To leave on a positive note, here's some good news about an old series that's making a comeback.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNHsA4WIFvc

      Also, David Lynch...is...DUCKMAN!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msMehuZo3x8

      ...I REALLY need to go take my meds now (along with some fine coffee to wash it down)!

      ChrisC

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    6. Although I thought the first 2-3 episodes of the season were absolutely dreadful, I've enjoyed the subsequent ones more than I expected to. (Minus this week's; I won't watch that until Sunday.) The acting has begun to improve again, which is something that I always find helps me tremendously in my enjoyment (such as it is).

      Hey, who knows; maybe the show could still somehow manage to pull it out of the fire.

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