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Out for Blood! Director Brady Schwind Gives Carrie the Musical the Immersive Treatment

The legendary Broadway flop returns to the stage like you've never seen it before.

Emily Lopez as Carrie White in Brady Schwind's immersive production of Carrie the Musical at the Los Angeles Theatre.
(© Jason Niedle)

Brady Schwind is obsessed with the musical Carrie. He's the kind of devotee who has listened to the notorious soundboard audio recordings of the original Broadway production, and considers himself "hypnotized" by Ken Mandelbaum's indispensable tome Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops. As a director, he's spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how he could rescue Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford, and Lawrence D. Cohen's five-performance flop from the theatrical circular file.

Schwind had a crazy notion, in keeping with the original tone of Stephen King's novel, and he pitched it to the writers. Unlike their recently revised off-Broadway version, which scaled down the musical's supernatural elements and turned it into a smallish allegory about bullying, Schwind viewed Carrie as an environmental spectacular, where audiences would be front and center within the action à la Here Lies Love.

The writing team went for it, and on March 12, 2015, Carrie the Musical had its southern California premiere at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Schwind's fully realized vision, complete with gallons of blood dropped from great heights and bleacher-style seating that moves around with the action, opened to such rave reviews that it prompted a transfer. Carrie is now running at a specially created auditorium within the historic Los Angeles Theatre movie palace.

As Carrie prepared for its return to the stage, there was no one more excited than Schwind.

Brady Schwind is the director of the new immersive Los Angeles production of Carrie the Musical.

Why was Carrie, that notorious flop, high on your list to direct?
I was a fan of the show. I grew up in the theater and was hypnotized by the mythology of Carrie and the Not Since Carrie book by Ken Mandelbaum. It captured my imagination. I approached the writers with this new concept, they listened to my crazy ideas, and said, "Why not?" The wonderful thing is that these writers are endlessly fascinated by the show and still love it. It began an almost three-year process of revisiting Carrie with the writers again. It's been quite a trip.

How different is it from the most recently revised version, which MCC Theater presented off-Broadway in 2012?
I wouldn't say substantially, in terms of music. There have been a lot of dialogue tweaks. We've restored some verses in songs from the 1988 production. We've completely redone the destruction because the concept is so different. The revised production at MCC, which was [director] Stafford [Arima]'s vision, was very small. The writers were smart; on one level, they said, "We can take this and make it as small as possible, letting people focus on the story itself." Stafford had that kind of a take on it, an intimate production that focused more on the themes of bullying and less on the special effects. We had to revisit it just from that standpoint.

Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson as Margaret and Carrie White in MCC Theater's 2012 production of Carrie the Musical.
(© Joan Marcus)

When did you decide that this production needed to be immersive?
As a director, I love to take on any kind of iconic project. It's interesting to ask, "Why has something endured?" and "What do I have to bring to the table?" Carrie, as a story, has been around for forty years. Stephen King tapped into this universal fear and high school experience that everyone has had. It is the scariest part of our lives. That was my entry point. With Sleep No More and Here Lies Love, [theater makers] have done a great job of creating a fantasy world people don't know anything about and putting them in the middle of that. I thought it would be interesting to do the polar opposite: to create a fantasy world that people know intimately, where they bring their own baggage to the table.

What is the tone of the show like in your version, given that, in the past, it's been played both as camp and serious melodrama?
This is much closer to the tone of the original workshops in 1983. The original production was so avant-garde you can't look at any of it. Off-Broadway, it was surprisingly PG-13. We've gone back and it's definitely R-rated. We have not shied away from the adult elements. There is a lot of blood. There are special effects that are really close up to the audience. There is nudity, tastefully done. I didn't want it to be crass.

Are you talking about during the shower scene?
When you talk about an immersive moment, this is one of the first images I had about why I thought this concept would work. It needs to be real. You need to see her in the shower. She needs to be naked. And when the women throw tampons at her, they box her in like she's in a pigpen.

Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton as Carrie and Margaret White in the new immersive production of Carrie the Musical at the Los Angeles Theatre.
(© Jason Niedle)

How much blood do you go through on a nightly basis?
We go through so much blood that we have a blood sponsor. It's expensive. It has to be blood that can wash out of clothes and not get in the actress's eyes. We go through three gallons of blood a night just on her, and it falls from a height of twenty-eight feet.

Is another New York return in the cards?
My very eloquent answer would be: Nothing would please me more than to bring this to New York. The only place Carrie has ever been seen on a major level is in New York. We're certainly looking at cities we'd go to before, like Las Vegas. I love the idea of going to New Orleans, because Carrie would fit so perfectly with the energy of that city. I hope that the run here is as successful as it was at La Mirada. Carrie is a Cinderella story, and I think the show deserves that kind of ending, too.

Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley as Margaret and Carrie White in the original 1988 Broadway production of Carrie the Musical.