Remember When: ‘Carrie: The Musical’ Bombed on Broadway

Back in 1988, Carrie hit Broadway. Yes, that’s right—a musical adaptation of the creepy Stephen King book that also inspired a creepy Brian De Palma film. The idea sounds like a weird gamble, and it was. After 16 previews then five official performances over three days, the show closed on Broadway, never to return.

Videos by American Songwriter

Yet people keep trying to bring her back from the dead.

Legit Talent

The show had legit talent involved. Composer Michael Gore—the sibling of singer Lesley Gore of “It’s My Party” fame—had previously shared an Oscar winner with lyricist Dean Pitchford for Best Original Song for the movie Fame in 1981, which also won the award for Best Original Score. He also scored Pretty in Pink and Terms of Endearment. Carrie book writer Lawrence D. Cohen actually wrote the screenplay for both De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Carrie and co-wrote Kimberly Pierce’s cinematic rendering in 2013. Cohen had a further horror pedigree with the film adaptation of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story and three King adaptations for TV including It in 1990.

Carrie: The Musical was first workshopped in 1984, and then performed in Stratford, England in 1988 before transferring to Broadway that same year. Linzi Hateley played the character of Carrie White on Broadway, while TV’s Eight is Enough matriarch Betty Buckley played her mother Margaret. The show played only 16 previews and five regular performances, and it obviously failed to recoup much of its reported $8 million budget (which is $21 million in 2024 dollars). It is considered to be one of the biggest musical flops in Broadway history. At least the producers tried to pull out all the stops to make it happen. (American Songwriter has included different video versions from YouTube for your own judgment.)

Despite the failure of the show, Buckley would appear on Broadway two more times (as she had five previous times) and has since been prolific on the small and big screens and in other theatrical productions and tours. This would be Hateley’s only Broadway show, but her career has since thrived on London’s West End, including in a popular run of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat in the ‘90s and its revival in 2022.

The Musical that Wouldn’t Die

But the idea of a Carrie musical would not die. A reading of the show was done in November 2009 that included Broadway stars Sutton Foster and Jennifer Damiano and American Idol runner-up Diana DeGarmo among the participants. Some of the original songs had been excised and replaced with new ones, which lead to the 2012 off-Broadway revival that actually scored five Drama Desk Award nominations. A soundtrack album was released. Molly Ranson played Carrie and Marin Mazzie was her mother Margaret. Both had been involved with the 2009 reading. There were also 2015 revivals of the show in Los Angeles and off-West End in London.

The legend of this horrifying Broadway flop is burned in the minds of many. Interestingly, despite the criticism and tepid mainstream response the show received, Hateley won Best Broadway Debut at the 1988 Theatre World Awards, and Buckley was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Musical at the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Both would later record a song apiece from the show on later solo albums, as would Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner on an album they did together.

The show has also inspired the podcast Out for Blood: The Story of Carrie the Musical which debuted in 2021. That endeavor was inspired by the 2023 book Out For Blood: A Cultural History of Carrie the Musical. A 2018 episode of the TV series Riverdale called “Chapter Thirty-One: A Night to Remember” had the main characters interested in staging the musical at their high school. No one has been able to secure the rights again to do another version of the musical in real life, although playwright Eric Jackson was able to do a dramatic, non-musical staging of the story off-Broadway in 2006.

Broadway has always flirted with mainstream properties in order to put butts in seats. Even back in the 1980s flashy shows like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera tried to Hollywood-ize classic properties by making everything big and loud and bold. These days, unlikely movies adaptations (some also based on books) have come to Broadway as musicals—Tootsie, American Psycho, Big Fish, and Back to the Future, plus the forthcoming The Notebook, Karate Kid, and The Outsiders. It’s part of the IP obsession that is also dogging Hollywood these days.

Horror has also been difficult for Broadway to pull off effectively. Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is a great example of a success, although one not intended purely as a horror show. Frank Langella’s performance in Dracula in the late ‘70s is iconic, but other vampire and horror tales mostly end up being musicals. Levi Holloway’s play Grey House, while only lasting three months last year, was an effectively eerie supernatural show with great sound design and staging that deserved more love. However, the 2016 dramatic production of Misery with Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf drew very mixed reviews.

At some point, someone is going to create a horror show that manages to capture the zeitgeist in a way that it perseveres on Broadway. But attempting another Stephen King-themed musical is likely not going to fly today, just as it didn’t back then. The best way for a horror musical to work is to ditch musical theater cliches and dive into something truly gothic and unsettling. In another words, it will require more bravery.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

'The Voice' coach Reba McEntire speaks during CMA Fest 2023.

Reba McEntire & ‘The Voice’ Contestant Have Perfect Back-and-Forth on Social Media After Blind Audition