Friday, September 24, 2010


Since my previous post on The Apple seemed to go over pretty well, I figured it was as good a time as any to explore some of the more dubious musical numbers out there in the land of B-movies and cult entertainment. There’s actually a lot more than you might think.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

And since that’s the case, we may as well start off with what is arguably the most infamous example in existence, Carrie: The Musical. Lasting only four weeks in England, five whole days on Broadway, and inspiring critic Ken Mandelbaum to pen the book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, this is the production which has come to define bad theater.

Which, of course, makes it a must see for folks like me.

Now I’m not gonna lie (my next confession’s packed enough already, thank you), I actually kind of like some of the songs from Carrie. The whole thing is like some crazed mash-up of Fame and Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown together with a bizarre kind of anti-Grease attitude. Weird, yes, but some of the numbers like Do Me A Favour still manage to work in the context of a stage show.


But, oh holy crap, the staging and art direction! It’s… it’s… well, just see for yourself. And don’t worry, nothing’s wrong with your eyes (not yet anyway), the first 60 seconds of this is in total darkness by design as the kids are supposed to be at a local hangout called The Night Spot.

Yeah. Probably wishing the whole thing had been in total darkness, right? I think it’s safe to assume that most people reading this blog are familiar with Carrie, if not Stephen King’s book, then at least with one of the two film versions (Three if you count The Rage: Carrie 2, but really, who does?). So I’m willing to go out on a limb here and guess that based on your previous exposure to the claustrophobic repressed world of Carrie, the last thing you envisioned in your mind for the musical version was a bunch of minimalistic Bauhaus sets populated by a cast who spends the entire show clothed in sequined body stockings. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? And were they ever allowed to work again? The disconnect between the story, the music, and what you’re seeing with your eyes is just too great to overcome, and is what I believe was the main contributing factor to the show’s quick demise. To prove the point, here’s a video of the same cast rehearsing the same song for the Broadway production.

See. Just sticking the kids in normal clothes (well, normal for dancers in the mid 80s anyway) begins to reveal the potential Carrie had to be something more than a joke. I’m not saying it would have been a frontrunner for a Tony award or anything like that, but if a show comprised of Abba karaoke like Mama Mia can become a mega-hit, then Carrie could at least have managed a decent run. All it really needed was for the music and visuals to come together in a unified whole.

You know, I’m sure it’s prohibited by the Geneva Conventions or something, but I feel strongly that anybody involved in the design of modern liturgical space should be strapped in a chair Clockwork Orange style and forced to watch the original production of Carrie The Musical at least once a week. That way, they’ll never forget that narrative and setting must work together to deliver a cohesive message, and the rest of us might be spared any more of the butt ugly modernist church buildings that have littered the landscape ever since Frank Lloyd Wright first vomited forth the Unity Temple back in 1905.

Now, just in case there’s any Wright fans out there, I’m not bombing on his entire output, just his so called “temple of man”. It purposely misses the entire point of a church building. In his book Architecture in Communion, theologian and architect Dr. Steven J. Schloeder explains that “In addition to the purely utilitarian requirements that serve the need of a congregation, the church building also has an iconic function. The church, as a building type, has a unique relationship to other building types in the urban fabric, for it is ‘a sign and symbol of heavenly things’; it stands ‘as a special sign of the pilgrim Church on earth and reflects the Church dwelling in heaven’.The church essentially represents and creates a break in the urban fabric of profane and nonreligious life. It is a sacred zone, a temenos, a precinct where the Divine Presence is manifested. It is an interruption not only in space but also in time: the church building and the Eucharistic Presence unite the temporal with the eternal, the material to the spiritual, and the immanent with the transcendent. Therefore the building itself serves as a sign of the eternal: it is an icon of the Divine Presence in the banal cityscape.”

Wright’s Unitarian worship space miraculously ignores all of that. Instead, it almost epitomizes what architect Moyra Doorly describes as a Relativist space. In her book No Place For God: The Denial of the Transcendent in Modern Church Architecture, she notes that “the architecture of Relativist space, like the universal model it embodies, is homogenous, directionless and value-free. A Relativist church building downplays or even denies the concept of sacred space, rejects linear forms, and is designed so that every part of it appears to be of equal importance. Outside it will resemble the local library or sports stadium, thereby proclaiming 'nothing special here'.” (Can you imagine someone actually building such a place? Never happen, right?)

Obviously not every church building can be a Gothic cathedral, nor necessarily should it. But as the Catechism reminds us, “the celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship "as a sign of his universal beneficence to all." And that being the case, the space we worship in should reflect and accentuate that message, not contradict it. Anybody who doesn’t think so, feel free to stop by. I’ve got about an hour and a half more of Carrie The Musical I’d like to show you.


Anonymous said...

Link to the Unity Temple is incorrect.

Rocket Scientist said...

I'm fascinated by the way you turn from Carrie: The Musical to church architecture :) Great as usual. You said it in different words, but the architecture and ornamentation of Byzantine Rite Catholic churches and Orthodox churches is based on the principal that each church is a "Window to Heaven," as are the icons inside. And speaking of musicals, at our house we rate cheesy movies on a scale which gives extra points if the movie is a musical. There are an amaing number out there. And none have beaten the point score of our favorite: Snow White and the Three Stooges. It's a musical. On ice. You haven't lived till you've seen the Three Stooges singing on ice skates.

EegahInc said...

Oops. Links are all fixed now.

And even though the Stooges were Jewish, I'd happily adopt them as patron saints of silliness around here. Back in my old college apartment, you couldn't go ten minutes without a Stooge quote.