(WARNING SOME SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW) You can’t keep a good girl down! In 1988, it seemed that “Carrie, The Musical” would be simply another casualty along the Great White Way; that is, until 2012 when its creators came together to significantly rewrite book and score, from which was reborn a momentous show that quickly went onto a triumphant “Off-Broadway” run. Now “The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts” in La Mirada California, in association with Producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman have once again reunited the show’s original creative team to present the Los Angeles area debut of an all-new, completely reimagined, “immersive” theater production of this truly one-of-a-kind musical!
Based on the acclaimed novel by Stephen King, “High School Musical” this isn’t–it’s more like a cross between “Spring Awakening” and “The Twilight Zone” instead. Even so, this “Carrie” is like NOTHING you’ve ever seen before! Overflowing with profound performances, jaw-dropping sets and spectacular special effects, it features a revised book by Lawrence D. Cohen (who also wrote the screenplay for the classic 1977 big-screen adaptation,) with music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford. No strangers to the often schizophrenic world of adolescence, between them, the pair have worked on such iconic “teen” entertainments as “Fame”, “Footloose” and “Pretty In Pink”; their songs here are pithy, and painfully honest, while also managing to send a few chills down your spine when called for. Although subjects like abuse and blatant ignorance are always a bit tough to take (and here it’s no different) both Cohen’s script and Gore and Pitchford’s score masterfully pinpoint and portray numerous aspects of the high-school human condition in ways few musicals in recent memory have been able to.
Totally transforming the stage into an intimate “black box” theatre—or specifically, “Ewen High School”, spectators are put right into the very heart of all the goings-on! Moreover, this ‘immersive’ atmosphere begins before audiences even enter the theater, when they are taken through a shadowy corridor reminiscent of a Halloween theme-park maze, which has been made to look like a high school that’s seemingly been through a recent cataclysm of some kind. The auditorium itself is decorated as the school’s gym in which all the action will take place, while center stage sits an inconsolable girl whom we will soon detect is “Sue Snell”— the lone survivor of a horrible tragedy. With this retelling, the story is seen in flashback through Sue’s beleaguered mind: “If only that day in the shower had never happened” she laments, recalling how, viciously taunted by her peers at school and brutalized by her psychotically religious mother at home, 17-year-old high-school outcast “Carrie Etta White” leads a lonely, tormented life until she discovers that she’s gifted with rare-yet-potent psychokinetic abilities; but when a vicious prank at her school’s Prom (right after she’s been named “Prom Queen”) goes horrendously wrong, Carrie’s unwary classmates and mother learn too late just how fatal a mistake it is to mess with a girl like her!
This new and innovative concept is the brainchild of Director Brady Schwind, and it pays huge dividends. Schwind keeps the action fluid, but not so rapid that many key elements or sentiments expressed are overlooked or rushed through; indeed, often there are several things happening simultaneously in several performance areas throughout the theater, and if anything, at times it can be a challenge to take them all in. Cautious minds also may rest assured that the story’s controversial “shower scene”, while containing some very brief nudity, is handled with great tact and discretion—yet another credit to Schwind’s directorial capabilities. Wisely too, he’s kept the special effects in the service of, instead of overpowering, the on-stage happenings. This is a musical more about people than ‘powers’, so when something phantasmic does occur, it startles–then amazes, making it far more memorable! Lee Martino’s spirited choreography also helps punctuate many of the key moments as well. Best described as hip-hop meets be-bop, she gives her dancers plenty of large group movements reminiscent of a vintage VH1 video brought to life!
First making their collective presence felt as the ‘ghosts’ of Sue’s lost classmates, the fresh-faced and superbly talented ensemble seethe out of the shadows, slowly ‘materializing’ with each pulsating beat of the opening number which details the crucial pubescent problem of fitting “In” (“I’d crawl out of my skin, and so would you, ‘cause life just doesn’t begin until you’re IN!”) Joining again, they back up the Evangelic “Open Your Heart”, giving it a fittingly “glorious” consummation; then they effectively initiate the second act with the optimistic “A Night We’ll Never Forget”, wherein each prepares for their big evening. Once revealed, the actual “Prom” is so breath-taking that even as the plot speeds toward its ultimate inevitable conclusion, you genuinely hope it won’t occur.
More than with many other musical theater heroines, a lot rides on the performance of “Carrie” herself as singer and actor, and here, Emily Lopez in the title role of the taunted “girl with something extra-sensory” has us in her corner all the way! Possessing the enviable ability to bring clarity and intensity to the considerable emotions being expressed through song, her opening rant, appropriately titled “Carrie”, is forceful and affecting. Through it, we learn just what a wounded soul this girl is, as well as how she clings to the hopes for better days despite everything. Lopez again impresses with her part in “Evening Prayers” (a duet with her mother.) This may be the most surreal sequence but it’s also the one of the most vital, as it’s here that Carrie starts to realize the extent of her mental powers and the inner-strength they can bring her. She may begin literally cowering before a large hovering crucifix while locked in a ‘prayer closet”, but she certainly doesn’t end that way, leaving her confinement with a definite swagger! Her final moments of Act One are about as portentous as they get, as Carrie, announcing her decision to go to the prom, then exits with the same sense of serenity one would find in the eye of a hurricane, after demonstrating her “abilities” to her now terrified mother.
As Carrie’s mother, Misty Cotton also does a superlative job in a decidedly tricky role; her “Margaret White” is an over-the-hill hippie/Jesus freak who surrendered her mind and logic long ago. “I can see you inside—full of sin and full of pride!” she condemns Carrie; still, Cotton succeeds at painting her in a more “three-dimensional” light with very human foibles than has been seen in earlier incarnations. Yes, she loves her daughter, but is so blinded by the light of her rigid “faith” that she can’t bear to face reality. Her rancorous “Eve Was Weak” is as infuriating as it is passionately delivered, but it’s after intermission that Cotton indelibly makes her mark with “When There’s No One”–a haunting melody that’s both beautiful and bone-chilling, because under all the soft words and dulcet tones, this is where Margaret finally surrenders what’s left of her tenuous grip on sanity. (“When the song dies, there is silence; when the tune that filled my days—no longer plays, the room is still…” she pines.) In the equally pivotal role of “Miss Gardner”, the girl’s coach who looks beyond Carrie’s plain, shy facade and sees someone worthy of self-esteem, Jenelle Lynn Randall is likewise a force to be reckoned with. Her song, “Unsuspecting Hearts” in which she gives Carrie the courage to accept Tommy’s invitation to the prom, may even bring a tear or two to your eyes.
No stranger to the La Mirada stage (appearing in last season’s award-winning “Les Miserables”,) Valerie Rose Curiel completely steps into the persona of quintessential ‘mean girl’ Chris Hargensen, and her rendition of “The World According To Chris” is a bona-fide highlight illuminating how Chris (the daughter of a local lawyer naturally,) has been raised to believe she’s inherently superior to other girls (“In every litter there’s a runt—Carrie White is ours” she gloats, later rationalizing her cruel behavior with, “nobody ever died from a scar!”) In fact, so ‘on the money’ is Ms. Curiel’s portrayal that on opening night when Chris finally “gets hers”, it was met with a spontaneous round of applause! In contrast, Kayla Parker’s “Sue” is similarly awesome as the affable girl next door with a conscience lacking in many of her compatriots at school. Her declaration “Once You See” is musical dynamite conveyed with the high-caliber urgency of a girl shaken into understanding the error of her callow, shallow ways.
Joining her is Jon Robert Hall as Sue’s boyfriend, “Tommy”—the lad whom she talks into being Carrie’s date. Together they make the kind of handsome, wholesome “dream couple” we all wish we had been a part of back in our own high school days. Hall too, has a clean, expressive vocal styling evocative of a young Richard Marx which he puts to excellent use during Tommy’s “Dreamer In Disguise”, infusing it with depth and soul. With Parker, their romantic duet “You Shine” (as Tommy wishes he could take his lady-love to the Prom instead) also rates a giant thumbs up! Offering a more ‘humane’ take on the role made famous by John Travolta in the film, Garrett Marshall also does a noteworthy job as Chris’ juvenile-delinquent boy-toy “Billy Nolan”. More a big, boisterous puppy dog with a booming voice to match, Billy tentatively regrets what they’re planning (“Isn’t this a little low—even for you?” he asks Chris.)
Set your mind to seeing “Carrie, The Musical” ASAP! After beginning previews on Thursday, March 12th, the show opened on Wednesday, March 18th, where it will run through Sunday, April 5, 2015. Show-times are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm; there will be two performances on Friday April 3 at 7:30 pm and 11:00 pm; with only one matinee at 2:00 pm on Sunday, April 5th. “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” is located at: at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada, CA. Tickets for this engagement can be purchased at their website, located at: www.lamiradatheatre.com , or by calling the Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 (Student and Senior discounts are available.) For more information about “Carrie, The Musical” visit www.experiencecarrie.com .
Production Stills By Jason Niedle (tethos.com) Courtesy Of David Elzer At Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts”; Special Thanks To David Elzer, Brian Kite, Bruce Robert Harris, Jack W. Batman And To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” Production Of “Carrie, The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.