Granados: A new take on the horror fave “Carrie: The Musical”

CorrespondentOctober 18, 2013 

Do you all remember “Carrie”? The book was written by Stephen King, and the movie, well, can I just say, “Angry psychic Sissy Spacek covered in pig’s blood”? If those words don’t conjure the memory, than I got nothing.

As a young dooper – my word for kid – I subscribed to the Stephen King book-of-the-month club. I read a new horror tale each 30 days or so. I don’t remember reading “Carrie,” but boy, do I remember that creepy movie.

But I bet you didn’t know it was a play. A musical, actually. One of the biggest flops on Broadway. It was so terrible that the creators withheld the rights for anybody else to perform it. Until now. Just this year, they gave the theater world the go-ahead to do it, if they wanted to. And right here at the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, they want to.

James Ilsley, 35, is the director and also something of a superfan. By that I mean he wrote his thesis on the musical. He was fascinated by how such a highly anticipated work could become such a huge crud-puddle.

“Why did so many people put so much talent, money and energy into it and have it go so horribly wrong?” he asked.

Believe it or not, “Carrie: The Musical” was supposed to be a a follow-up to “Les Miserables.” It was by the same company. But while the material was good, the direction of the Broadway production was bad.

“You had a British take on an American prom,” Ilsley said. “They just didn’t get it.”

But he does, and the modern production, which starts at 8 p.m. Friday, is breathing new life into this decades-old flop.

Ann Davis, 34, portrays the title character. While people primarily remember “Carrie” through the book or its movie adaptation, Davis said that looked at through a modern lens, the plot becomes a story about something else.

“There is so much in the news these days about bullying, and that is an interesting way to look at the character now that I don’t think was as prevalent in the ’70s,” she said.

Indeed, Ilsley said that the musical isn’t so much “horror.”

“I would call it more of a psychological thriller,” he said. “There are definitely horror elements. But it is truly Shakespearean tragedy.”

And more to the point, it’s relevant. Times have changed, and life in these United States is different than it was when the book and movie came out. Especially when you consider that the characters in the musical are in high school. Think of the travails of modern high school students when compared with those of their 1970s-era counterparts. It’s like two different worlds.

“There are many things that are in the book and the movie that are very 1970s, and we’re setting this in modern times,” Ilsley said. “Dating and the prom are different than they were in 1972.”

And it’s all taking place during an exciting time for the NRACT. The theater has been undergoing renovations, and “Carrie” will be the first production to utilize the theater’s new capabilities, including new sound and other technical elements.

“It’s been challenging to work on a show during renovation, but 100 percent worth it,” Ilsley said.

The show continues through Nov. 3, with a special Halloween showing. Check out for more details.

Don’t miss it. Davis said it combines all the best parts of musical theater: big ballads, fun dance numbers, a rocking score, tragedy.

“And you get to add in, you know, buckets of fake blood,” Davis said. “So there’s something for everyone.”

Her extremely Christian and conservative parents will be in the audience at some point, and Davis is anticipating their reaction.

“I think it will be a lot of smiling and nodding,” she said.

If you’re a fan of the Stephen King novel, if you’re a fan of the movie ... heck, if you’re a fan of fake blood and Halloween and things that go bump in the night, come check it out. Tragedy may never be this fun again.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at

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