`Carrie' pulls a disappearing act

Carrie Musical by Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (lyrics), Lawrence D. Cohen (book). Based on the novel by Stephen King. Directed by Terry Hands. Choreographed by Debbie Allen. Starring Betty Buckley. When the irresistible force met the movable object, the result was ``Carrie,'' the flashy but fitful Royal Shakespeare Company fiasco seen briefly at the Virginia Theater.

This may well have been the first telekinesis musical; before its close on Sunday, after 16 previews and five performances, it allowed the teen-age heroine to employ her mental powers to wreak all manner of horrors in a second-act climax of lasers, lightnings, fake blood, and smoke bombs.

The forlorn heroine in this stage adaptation of Stephen King's book is Carrie White (Linzi Hately). Taunted at school by her despicable fellow pupils, Carrie is slapped around at home by her religious zealot of a mother (Betty Buckley). Classmate Sue (Sally Ann Triplett) relents and persuades her boyfriend, Tommy (Paul Gyngell), to take Carrie to the school prom. But hateful Chris (Charlotte D'Amboise) and bad boy Billy (Gene Anthony Ray) spoil things by pouring a bucket of pig's blood over poor Carrie. She and mom wind up in a double tragedy on a white stairway reaching from downstage to the flies (if not to heaven).

In short, ``Carrie'' was a schlocky Gothic horror show, a $7 million pop-rock ``musical tragedy,'' a director's field day. In the shambles, human beings became accessories to technically brilliant displays of scenery (Ralph Koltai), lighting (director Terry Hands), and sound effects (Martin Levan). The stagehands should have received Playbill credit. Composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pritchard provided an occasionally appealing score which crescendoed noisily when required. Lawrence D. Cohen's book was presumably faithful to King's novel, previously adapted as a film vehicle for Sissy Spacek.

British newcomer Hately did what she could to invest the beleaguered Carrie with a modicum of credibility, and Miss Buckley, a stalwart singing actress, made Mrs. White a barefoot monster just this side of derangement. Darlene Love portrayed the kindly gym teacher, whose efforts in Carrie's behalf produced mixed results. The Anglo-American company responded unflaggingly to the showy staging of RSC artistic director Hands - recalled most recently on Broadway for his admirable ``Much Ado About Nothing'' and ``Cyrano de Bergerac'' - and to Debbie Allen's pelvic-gymnastic choreography.

Reviewing ``Carrie'' for Plays and Players when it premi`ered at Stratford-upon-Avon in February, respected critic Sheridan Morley concluded sadly that its New York arrival (so soon after ``Chess'') ``could well mark the end of the British musical invasion of Broadway.''

Whether or not Mr. Morley is proved right, ``Carrie'' was a travesty of the British stage spectacular. At the preview I attended, the audience responded with cheers, but the majority of the reviewers weren't carried away.

``Carrie'' was the last scheduled production of the 1987-88 Broadway season.

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