The first time the 1988 musical version of “Carrie” hit the stage, it landed with a thud in London and went on to play Broadway in a famously disastrous run that’s become shorthand for “major flop.” Thirty years later, Off Broadway’s MCC Theater has brought back this tuner based on Stephen King’s 1973 novel and Brian De Palma’s 1976 pic about teens and telekinesis, presumably the way the authors always intended it to be. But the result is smaller, less bloody and no more compelling.
Despite revisions by author Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the original screenplay) and songwriters Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford (who won an Oscar in 1980 for the title song from “Fame”), “Carrie” seems malnourished. Scenes featuring a group of malcontent teenagers alternate with those of awkward outsider Carrie (Molly Ranson), occasionally accompanied by her loony fundamentalist mama (Marin Mazzie). The onstage storytelling might baffle auds unfamiliar with the plot: The critical shower-room taunting scene is mild, while Carrie’s displays of telekinetic powers — levitating a small statuette of Jesus, for instance — are minor.
Without a stage full of special effects to utilize, the story’s climactic prom-night explosion is mostly loud music and blinking lights. The famous bucket of blood, on which so much of “Carrie” depends, is not real but a projection.
The show has been updated under the supervision of director Stafford Arima (“Altar Boyz”), who doesn’t make much of a case for his decisions: The action has been moved forward to today, with the characters blithely texting away, which only leads you to wonder why a current-day “Carrie” would have songs that sound as if they come from the 1980s.
Ranson (“Jerusalem”) and Mazzie (“Kiss Me, Kate”) sing their guts out, with several songs that shake the rafters without being especially good. Ranson does a fine job as the outcast, while the talented Mazzie has little to do besides sing very loud and look very creepy. Christy Altomare and Derek Klena, meanwhile, give agreeable performances, respectively, as the girl who tries to befriend Carrie and the boy who ultimately takes her to the prom.
The authors have for years fended off revival requests, waiting to find a team that would give them the show they always wanted. But in this current incarnation, “Carrie” looks unlikely to rise once more.
Songs: “In,” “Carrie,” “Open Your Heart,” “And Eve Was Weak,” “The World According to Chris,” “Evening Prayers,” “Dreamer in Disguise,” “Once You See,” “Unsuspecting Hearts,” “Do Me a Favor,” “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance,” “A Night We’ll Never Forget,” “You Shine,” “Why Not Me?” “Stay Here Instead,” “When There’s No One,” “The Prom,” “Epilogue”