Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Singing Pig's Blood

In 1991, a fellow student at the Meadows School of the Arts told me he had mailed away for a bootleg copy of the most notorious musical in Broadway history: Carrie.

As many already know, the film Carrie had a huge impact on my artistic sensibilities. Brian de Palma is very much a "hit or miss" director. He takes huge risks and is never one to shy away from the edge. "Over the top" does not frighten him, and there is no better example of this than Carrie. Watching Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek do battle in that film is wickedly delightful. It manages to be terrifying, hilarious, and moving all at the same time. And the highly choreographed prom - from it's Cinderella-inspired beginning to it's pig-blood soaked ending - is a masterpiece "film within a film".

My entrance into theatre was through musicals. And I remembered in 1988 seeing Stephen King's novel in stores with a new cover - an unusual, minimalist rendering of what appeared to be a girl - and under it: "Now a major Broadway musical." I asked around the next year about why there was no cast recording. To combine one of my favorite films with my new-found love of musical theater was a dream come true! But I was ignorant to just how "major" the musical was: the biggest flop in history. Five shows. Closed.

But what I came to learn is that the critics, though they panned it to shreds - and rightfully so, acknowledged that a couple of duets from the show were some of the best in the history of all musicals. Ken Mandelbaum, in his book Not Since Carrie, writes about this. He asserts that one of the big tragedies is that Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley were so good as Margaret White and Carrie, this should have been a star-making show. Instead, the immense talent on display and the raw power of their duets was buried in a heap of incoherence and lethal missteps; RSC Director Terry Hands should never have worked again.

My college friend gave me a copy of the bootleg recording - a scratchy cassette that had been created by someone sneaking into the closing show with a tape recorder in his pocket. Uh...not high quality. was good enough to capture the power Buckley and Hateley and from my first listen, the song "And Eve Was Weak" has remained one of my favorite duets of all time.

I came upon this YouTube video - a clip that starts half way through the number...a bootleg video from 1988 at the closing performance at the Virginia Theatre. Again - scratchy...but the power is there. And it makes me wonder...if in the right hands and a competent creative team...could this have been "ground breaking" instead of "bank breaking"?


Mead said...

Speaking of pig's blood....did you know that a storyline on True Blood involves a bloodthirsty Maenad on the loose? Theater History 101 was not wasted on those writers......

Angela said...

In a way, I feel I've lived through this, and have been shoved down into the proverbial cellar to pray for my wicked soul. So, it partially pains me to say: YES, without question, had the book and lyrics been better (or, you know: any GOOD outside those duets) it could have been ground breaking. But on the other hand, without reservation, I just say: are you kidding me? Nobody can do what Betty can do. I would sell my spleen to have witnessed it in the flesh. (From the audience side of the cellar, I mean.)