On April 18, Riverdale finally unveiled its long-teased musical episode, which was replete with plenty of musical numbers, tons of drama, and quite the cataclysmic conclusion. The episode will surely go down in Riverdale history, and now it’s time to sort through the wreckage and get a handle on our emotions. But as we press on and look toward the fast-approaching season finale, one practical question remains: what the hell is Carrie: The Musical?
If you walked away from this episode wondering if it was real or just a crazy thing Riverdale made up, you’re not alone. But I’m here to tell you that Carrie: The Musical is not only real, it’s also one of the most infamous productions in Broadway history. That’s because no single show has flopped so spectacularly — not before or since the show’s ill-fated 1988 debut. In honor of the legendary musical, we thought we’d offer a brief history of how it all went down.
The Initial Story
If you’re somehow not aware, the story of Carrie was originally written in book form by legendary horror author Stephen King. It was published in 1974 and then quickly adapted into a film that came out in 1976. Both the book and film did so well, the powers that be decided the next logical move would be a musical. Lawrence D. Cohen, who adapted the original novel to the screen, teamed up with composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford to make the musical production a reality.
The Disastrous Run on Broadway
Despite the fact that they began working on and workshopping the musical all through the early ’80s, it didn’t get enough funding to come to life until 1988. The show had a brief preview period (about 16 performances) in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. What’s interesting is that the show wasn’t initially panned by critics. In an interview with Playbill, the creators note that the reception was mixed. “You’d hear roaring ovations and, just as loud, booing,” Cohen said. Even so, it’s not hard to find a positive review from this particular leg of the journey. Once the show moved to New York, though, it was a different story.
If you ask the creators, New York critics saw something different. “What happened when we came to New York was that the same division of the critics was palpable in the audiences in the weeks of previews and the week that we ran,” Cohen said. The show opened on Broadway on May 12, 1988 . . . and closed on May 15, 1988. It didn’t exactly receive rave reviews; a good example is The New York Times, which offered quite a few punches to the gut in a less than flattering overview. The show only lasted a whopping five performances, and it reportedly lost a record-breaking $7 million.
It’s worth noting that very few traces of the original Carrie musical exist. There are no official photos or cast recording, just a few bootleg videos. There are traces of the source material here and there on the internet, but they’re only bits and pieces. The show was finally revived in an off-Broadway production in 2012, but according to The New York Times, it developed something of a cult following in the years since it closed. After the flop, the creators were approached with hundreds of pitches. Scores of theaters wanted to attempt a production of Carrie, but the original producers were too heartbroken to say yes.
Finally, in 2012, they agreed to bring Carrie back to life. The aforementioned off-Broadway production opened at New York’s Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2012 and did moderately better, lasting 80 performances before it closed (about four times as many as the original). The musical had been trimmed and cleaned up a bit; it was fitted with new songs and a truncated story. This production yielded the only official recording of the music, which is even available on Spotify. Still, it was by no means a runaway success. Eighty performances isn’t a lot compared to the 12,000-plus performances of Phantom of the Opera or the Chicago revival’s 8,000.
And now we have Riverdale‘s musical episode, which is perhaps the most high-profile homage to the musical we’ve ever seen. And really, what better place to showcase this bleak and bloody story? Riverdale is an outsider all its own; it’s a dark teen show that’s filled to the brim with its own bloody brutalities. And it’s not hard to find Riverdale characters who are mirrored, one way or another, in the story of Carrie. As for what will happen now that the ill-fated musical has been thrust into the spotlight yet again? That remains to be seen.