A Brief History of CARRIE: THE MUSICAL, The Disastrous Production That Inspired RIVERDALE

Riverdale is finally going full-blown musical with “A Night to Remember,” an episode that finds our favorite melodramatic teens working on a production of Carrie: The Musical. A musical based on a Stephen King novel sounds like the sort of fanciful thing the Riverdale writers might concoct, but it’s actually totally real. Carrie: The Musical debuted on Broadway in 1988 and closed after just 16 previews and five performances. It’s one of The Great White Way’s most notoriously chaotic productions ever, with a history so archly camp that it’s no wonder the Riverdale crew would be interested in bringing it back to life.

Here’s a brief run-down of the history behind Carrie: The Musical: who was involved, what went wrong, and why it’s perfect for Riverdale.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?


After the success of King’s novel and Brian de Palma‘s cinematic adaptation, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the script for de Palma’s film) and composer Michael Gore set to work on a musical version of the material. Gore, who wrote the hit musical Fame, brought in his collaborator on that project, Dean Pitchford, to help with rewrites. The musical had its first workshop in 1984, but it took several years to scrabble together funding. It wouldn’t see the stage until 1988.

The Musical Was Riddled With Problems From The Get-Go

The show had a trial run in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in February 1988 that was riddled with script and technical problems. The infamous pig blood scene was nearly impossible to sort out, as it caused the actress playing Carrie’s microphone to malfunction. Barbara Cook, who played Carrie’s hysterically evangelical mother Margaret, resigned on opening night after she was almost decapitated by a set piece. Several songs were removed and several others added during the 4-week engagement. By the time it was over, it was growing pretty clear that the writers and composers had a cold turkey on their hands.

When The Show Moved to Broadway, It Flopped, Epically

The crew brought Carrie: The Musical to Broadway for $8 million, an astronomical number for the time. Cook was replaced by actress Betty Buckley, who played Carrie’s teacher Miss Collins in de Palma’s film, but even that added trivia couldn’t boost the show’s miserable fate. The show opened for previews on April 28, 1988 to wildly mixed reactions: the curtain call was met with both boisterous applause and loud boos. The press wasn’t kind to the musical, and their scathing reviews ultimately sank the project. Though it was sold out every night, the financial backers pulled their money. Carrie: The Musical officially opened on May 12, 1988 and officially closed on May 15, after only five performances.

Despite Its Reputation, The Show Became A Cult Obsession

Carrie: The Musical‘s brief stay on Broadway and crazy production history made it the subject of obsession for theatre aficionados. It inspired a book—Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops—and bootlegs from the Stratford and New York performances made the rounds, which grew the show’s popularity. It became a staple in high school and college theatre clubs, inspired parodies, and a few of the songs (like “When There’s No One”) even became popular solo audition songs.

The ongoing interest in Carrie: The Musical led to an off-Broadway revival in 2012. A lot of the songs from the 1988 production were excised and replaced. This version was much more acclaimed, and an official cast recording was finally made available to the public. But for years, as April Wolfe noted on Twitter, “the only cast recording available until 2012 was done by a Norwegian middle school, which translates the songs [and] added one new one. It was the only way many people were able to find the music,” adding later that, it “was impossible to find the music anywhere like people burned every copy of the play book.”

Carrie: The Musical is Perfect For Riverdale

The camp status and cult iconry is part of what makes Carrie such a great fit for The CW‘s neon-noir teen series, which is already obsessed with its own over-the-top theatrics. The writers originally wanted to do Little Shop of Horrors for their big musical episode, but eventually landed on Carrie because its story better paralleled what the Riverdale kids are going through. “It felt as though the songwriters had written songs for the same set of characters,” Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told The New York Times. The episode will contrast the story of a persecuted Cheryl Blossom ( Madelaine Petsch) against the famously bullied Carrie White, with side plots involving the growing tension between Betty ( Lili Reinhart) and Veronica ( Camila Mendes), which fits with the quarreling Carrie characters they’re playing.

We can’t wait to see what the Riverdale crew is able to do with Carrie: The Musical. Will you be watching? Let us know in the comments!

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