BWW Review: All Hell Breaks Loose in CARRIE THE MUSICAL
Carrie The Musical
Music by Michael Gore, Lyrics by Dean Pitchford, Book by Lawrence D. Cohen, Based on the Novel by Stephen King, Directed by Paul Melone, Musical Direction by Nicholas James Connell, Choreographed by Larry Sousa; Scenic Design, Eric Levenson; Costume Design, Emily Woods Hogue; Lighting Design, Jeff Adelberg; Sound Design, David Reiffel; Projection Design, Seaghán McKay; Production Stage Manager, Dawn Schall Saglio; Assistant Stage Manager, Alycia Marucci
CAST (in alphabetical order): Jorge Barranco, Paige Berkovitz, Shonna Cirone, John Costa, Kerry A. Dowling, Sarah Drake, Elizabeth Erardi, Alexa Lebersfeld, Joe Longthorne, Amanda Lopez, Stephen Markarian, Phil Tayler, Adena Walker, Daniel Scott Walton
Performances through June 7 by SpeakEasy Stage Company at Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com
All hell breaks loose in Carrie the musical at SpeakEasy Stage Company thanks to a match made in heaven between a rising junior at The Boston Conservatory and a first-rate diva of the Boston theater community. Elizabeth Erardi debuts as Carrie White, a Maine teen tormented by her peers and by her fanatical mother, the latter played with pitch perfect fervor by Kerry A. Dowling. Directed by Paul Melone, the New England premiere of this much-storied musical treats its subject with surprising respect and dignifies the validity of its timeless message.
For the uninitiated, Carrie was Maine author Stephen King's first published novel (1974) which received a successful film treatment by Brian De Palma (1976), garnering Academy Award nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie as the daughter-mother tandem. In 1988, it was adapted for the stage by Michael Gore (Music), Dean Pitchford (Lyrics), and Lawrence D. Cohen (Book) in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England. The seemingly-cursed show quickly transferred to Broadway where it closed after just five performances, making it the most expensive flop in Broadway history, as well as anointing it with cult status. In 2012, Gore, Pitchford, and Cohen mounted a revised, downsized version Off-Broadway which had a limited run and produced a cast recording.
The new, improved Carrie the musical is a perfect vehicle for SpeakEasy Stage which succeeds at tailoring the show to its intimate space at the Roberts Studio Theatre, and typically casts energetic, talented students and alumni from The Boston Conservatory. IRNE Award-winners for In the Heights Nicholas James Connell and Larry Sousa are reunited as Musical Director and Choreographer respectively, driving the musical numbers with their blend of virtuosity and verisimilitude. Sousa's dance moves and Emily Woods Hogue's costume designs help to establish the setting as the present, but it is more the attitudes of the actors playing high school kids that conveys the zeitgeist. Scenic Designer Eric Levenson suggests the gymnasium with cement block walls, a couple of benches, and rows of lockers which reverse to comprise the living/dining room of the White household, decorated with religious artifacts and spartan furnishings.
The 2012 version aims for the heart by placing the focus on the Carrie-Margaret dynamic and the character development of Sue Snell, the mean girl who tries to make things right after experiencing an "aha" moment ("Once You See"). Sarah Drake, who played Natalie in SpeakEasy's Next to Normal, skillfully traverses the minefield of adolescent angst, being part of the crowd while trying to be true to herself, and her reactions to the events going on around her are genuine. She has a voice that can be strong or sweet, whichever the song calls for, and blends well musically with Joe Longthorne as Sue's boyfriend Tommy Ross. Longthorne has a mellow voice and amiable demeanor, but doesn't project BMOC charisma.
At school, Carrie has to deal with the likes of entitled, spoiled biatch Chris Hargenson (Paige Berkovitz, dripping with malevolence) and her delinquent beau Billy Nolan (Phil Tayler, sporting a new haircut and a menacing sneer). The only warmth Carrie receives is from Shonna Cirone's gym teacher Miss Gardner in a beautifully sung duet ("Unsuspecting Hearts"). At home, she incurs her mother's form of tough love and corporal punishment. Dowling will put the fear of God in you in her operatic screed "And Eve Was Weak," one of several songs with lyrical references to burning. However, as Carrie gradually discovers her telekinetic powers and feels emboldened, the balance in their relationship tilts and everything changes.
Erardi's performance gains traction when Carrie begins to open to the possibilities of normalcy, tentatively at first, like a flower bud on a warm morning, and climaxes when she turns on a dime to unleash her destructive rage at the prom. After the bucket of blood is dumped on her, Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg and Projection Designer Seághan McKay create virtual chaos and the ensemble members throw themselves against the walls and on the floor. Carrie calmly departs while Sound Designer David Reiffel gives us sirens blaring in the distance. I actually would have liked to see a little bit more in the destruction scene, but I understand the constraints of live theater with one chance to get it right versus multiple takes and angles for a film.
The message of Carrie the musical about bullying and kids struggling to find ways to fit in without standing out resonates today, as much as ever. Unfortunately, we are now more accustomed to violent reactions to the scourge of bullying, albeit with guns rather than telekinesis. The idea of turning this into a musical may raise eyebrows, but the story is operatic and Gore and Pitchford combine their talents to explore character and advance the narrative in the score. The members of the ensemble - Jorge Barranco, Alexa Lebersfeld, Amanda Lopez, Stephen Markarian, Adena Walker, and Daniel Scott Walton - are more than faces in the background, portraying a variety of personalities along with strong singing and dancing skills. Melone and company have ensured that we'll continue to talk about the much talked-about Carrie.
Photo credit: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo (Elizabeth Erardi, Kerry A. Dowling)