STEPHEN KING’S "CARRIE" HORRIFYING AND MUSICALLY ON FIRE– HOT VOCALS AT MUSIC MOUNTAIN By John Dwyer
MMT revived a musical thought by less creative people to be dead and makes it work. Makes it work with an amazing cast and a great director. "Carrie" slays.
When any theater aficionado is asked name a 'Broadway Flop,' “Carrie” is mentioned. No doubt this musical had bon mots from critics like “dead on arrival.” But like the signature move of its original film director, Brian de Palma, where in the final reel “the dead just will not die,” this musical just keeps coming back to life. It has had many revivals, with varying successes.
Because the BONES of the musical are basically sound and there is so much good there, this show gets resurrected. And, at the often courageous Music Mountain Theater, it is well and alive.
I am so grateful for this group when it takes chances. When they do (like "Head Over Heels" or "Hedwig"), they have done it knowing the worth of the show and want to share it with those of us who want to see something hardly seen in community and regional theater. Thank you.
Originally back in 1988, the confusion on stage was such a hot mess that even Stephen King was horrified. And even though it had only 16 previews and 5 regular performances on Broadway, there was enough good buzz that many wanted to revive it and give it another try. But King said no. He was so disillusioned by the Broadway show, he said never again. Luckily he eventually relented. The history of the show is interesting. The show being presented locally is the 2012 re-write.
The 1974 novel became a classic horror film debuting in 1976. The musical premiered in Stratford, England in 1988 and later that year on Broadway. Barbara Cook was scheduled to play the religious zealot mother but almost got decapitated and bowed out. Betty Buckley succeeded her in England and remembers the show as a great experience. She felt it was ahead of its time. I agree. Betty Buckley has said: "To be honest with you, I think that had they pushed passed those reviews that it could have become event theatre. It was sold out the whole time we ran for those 21 performances. You couldn't get a ticket. I think it would have become something like Rocky Horror Picture Show. That event kind of musical where people come and dress as the characters and recite the lines with the audience. I think it would've become something along those lines.”
For those who do not know the plot, the show is about bullying. A young girl. Carrie White is overprotected by her religious zealot mother, Margaret White. Her mother has made her socially awkward and totally naïve when it comes to sex and boys. She is isolated. Does not have friends but does have an understanding gym coach, Miss Gardner and a young girl Sue Snell who has decided that she cant be a part of the bullying. She is one of the most popular girls. Her boyfriend is Tommy Ross. She tries to be a friend to Carrie, who is an outcast only because she is a little different. The ringleader of the “mean girl” group is Chris Hargensen. She conspires with the other girls and her boyfriend Billy Nolan and his friends to make Carrie’s life unbearable. Carrie, meanwhile, discovers she has telekinetic powers…seemingly brought on by her isolation and stress.
Buckley’s comment that the show was ahead of its time is correct. A horror novel/film based on bullying was not a subject matter that many would be comfortable with as a musical in the eighties. Forty years later, after killer barbers and "Bonnie & Clyde," "Next to Normal" and "Beetlejuice," this is not a thing anymore. Also, the 1988 version sounds as if they were focused more on technical splash than the bullying story line.
The 2012 version has Sue Snell opening the show trying to explain to police what happened with Carrie and the killing spree at the prom. We are focused on the bullying. Later moments do not distract from that. Bearing down on that aspect has made the show a better story. The earlier version with large descending staircases, blood and gore was fixated more on splash than substance it appears. It muddied the waters as to the purpose of the musical. Regarding the bullying, poor Carrie was bullied by her family and her peers. Her mother and the school bully, Chris were relentless. An interesting aspect of the show is that the songs for Carrie and the mother are more layered, operatic and complex. The songs for the high school kids are more pop. It is a nice juxtaposition of these two conflicting worlds.
Kudos to director Deven Miller for bringing this production to the stage with such force & vision... and for casting and driving a cast to such incredible heights. Props to the artistic directors Louis Palena and Jordan Brennan for choosing this show for their season.
The cast is perfection. Lauren Brader is one of the best actresses in the Music Mountain Theater troupe of actors and this is one of her finest and most nuanced roles. Musically and acting-wise it is very challenging. She is committed to Margaret’s world of extremism. She has created a monster mom… a mother with good intentions but who lives in the darkest of worlds. Brava! In the title role of Carrie is Marissa Spencer. She inhabits this role with all the sensitivity that is needed, while still making Carrie not a sop but a tender human being that needs only to be understood. Great acting and singing that brings authenticity to this difficult roles. The scenes between mother and daughter are mesmerizing. The awesomeness of these two stop the show cold with songs that soar by composer and lyricist Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford.
Colby Langweiler as Sue Snell has one of her best roles yet. Langweiler has a gift with one of the most expressive and honest faces that show every aspect of her feelings. Whether being interrogated by the police about an inexplicable horror or when showing her love for her boyfriend or concern for her friend, the emotional and physical honesty of her performance is apparent. Amazing. Brianna Kane is so naturally comfortable on stage and wows the audience as the girl that the audience loves to hate. She has given Chris the effortless confidence that a privileged bad girl has. Words and actions flow from her without any forethought of consequences to others. Great acting and …the girl can sing! Loved her as Portia in “Something Rotten.” Background includes being a student at American Musical and Dramatic Academy in NYC, majoring in Musical Theater. It is apparent. Super job.
Soren Madsen as Tommy Ross is superlative. A super talent. Young leading man and able to do character work as well, as seen when he was in “Spring Awakening” as Hanschen. There are many layers of caring and being in the moment in this character. Moments that get lost unless handled with truly being relaxed enough in this confident character that Tommy is. Soren is good. Soren is real good. Jenna Parillo Alvino is like a brand that you go to for quality. I have an expectation of a good acting performance and an amazing vocal when I see her name listed. As Miss Gardner, she again brings all the qualities that are a part of her deep arsenal of talents. Miss Gardner is real. Stern when she needs to be. Kind and understanding…which the character truly is. Parillo-Alvino encapsulates that and her vocals soar. Shout out to the work of Cullen Hussey as Billy Nolan, Roger Madding as Mr. Stephens and Amanda Romig as mean girl Norma.
This young cast is one of the best ensembles ever at Music Mountain. Shout out also for the set that is massive and so smart. Also, the impressive special effects. And another brava for Deven Miller’s choreography.
It’s time. Go visit “Carrie” for a scare and one of the most exciting, horrifying musical experiences you will ever have.