BWW Reviews: CARRIE: THE MUSICAL Captivates and Compels Attention at Beck

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

From the heavy beating musical sound at the start, through the exciting powerful opening dance, to the exposition presented in the song, "In," through the compelling story filled with well designed twists and turns, to the startling conclusion, "CARRIE: THE MUSICAL," now on stage at Beck Center, captivates the imagination and compels attention.

The musical is based on Steven King's novel, "CARRIE." It centers on Carrie White, a shy, misfit teenager who attends Chamberlain High School in a small town in Western Maine. Her mother, a religious fanatic, dominates her life with Bible rules and fear tactics, setting the girl up to be a social misfit.

Bullied and teased by the "in" crowd for her traditional clothing and hairstyle, her lack of knowledge of the ways of sex, and her inability to break through her awkwardness, makes life hell for Carrie. When she discovers she has telekinetic powers, things change.

These powers result in her taking revenge when she is asked to the prom by Tommy Ross, the school's most popular boy, as a result of a plan concocted by his girl friend Sue, to help Carrie to emerge from her shell. What appears to be a great idea turns bad when Carrie is humiliated at the high school dance and wreaks havoc on everyone. The conclusion is a stunner, which leaves the audience limp.

CARRIE: THE MUSICAL has had a blundering path to the stage. The show opened on Broadway on May 12, 1988 to a mix of cheers and boos during the opening night curtain call, scathing reviews, and, in spite of sold out houses, the investors pulling their money from the show. It closed after only 5 performances, making it one of the most expensive disasters in American theatre history. It earned the "honor" of inspiring the title of Ken Mandelbaum's book, "NOT SINCE CARRIE: FORTY YEARS OF BROADWAY FLOPS."

So, why the production at Beck? In 2012 a limited run revival was mounted in the Big Apple. The script and score had been reworked and re-imagined. The purpose was to "rescue CARRIE from oblivion and to give her new life." As evidence by the Beck production, the rewriting worked.

"CARRIE: THE MUSICAL," is the type of show that Vickie Bussert, resident director for Great Lakes Theatre and Director of Music Theatre at Baldwin Wallace, does best. It is a script that is edgy, avails itself to her using her very talented and well trained students, and demands creative and inventive staging. It's the likes of "SPRING AWAKENING,' for which Bussert won the Cleveland Critics Circles' Best Director of a Musical in 2012, and such other non-traditional shows as "LIZZY BORDEN: THE ROCK MUSICAL," "BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL," "GREY GARDENS," "THE BREAK UP NOTEBOOK: THE LESBIAN MUSICAL and 'BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL," which are on her vast resume.

The BW alumni and student cast is outstanding. Petite Caitlin Houlahan is so convincing as the conflicted Carrie, that knowing of the character's powers, I'd hate to cross her. Houlahan doesn't portray Carrie, she is Carrie! This is a standing "o" performance.

Sara Masterson is totally convincing as Sue Snell, the haunted witness and tour guide of the story. As she struggles to recount the incidents leading up to the tragic prom night, the audience is compelled to listen attentively to her tale.

Colton Ryan has both the looks and "aw shucks" good boy personality that makes Tommy Ross, Sue's boyfriend and Carrie's prom date, believable. He has a nice singing voice. Masterson and Ryan have a real connection which makes their "a couple" performance so acceptable.

Genna-Paige Kanago doesn't portray nasty girl Chris, she embodies the snarky character. Sam Wolf flexes his muscles, smiles his sly smile and is properly obnoxious as the teenage-male with hopping hormones and no conscience.

Katherine DeBoer is truly scary as Carrie's religiously obsessed, psychologically scared mother. She makes Bible pounding and fanaticism into an art form.

Musical director Nancy Maier does a great job of having her orchestra support rather than drown out the performers. The ensemble got their own, well-deserved curtain call for their fine in-tune performance.

The dancing was outstanding. Gregory Daniels used gymnastic, modern and contemporary movements to create a whirling dervish of compelling sights.

Russ Borski's lighting, especially during Carrie's telekinetic channeling, created the perfect moods. Jordan Janota's set design used Beck's limited stage and off-stage space to provide clear locations. The only things missing were the much discussed prom decorations.




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Roy Berko Roy Berko, a life-long Clevelander, holds degrees, through the doctorate from Kent State, University of Michigan and The Pennsylvania State University. Roy was an actor for many years, appearing in more than 16 plays, 8 TV commercials, and 3 films. He has directed more than 30 productions. A member of the American Critics Association, the Dance Critics Association and The Cleveland Critics Circle, he has been an entertainment reviewer for more than twenty years.

For many years he was a regular on Channel 5, ABC-Cleveland's "Morning Exchange" and "Live on 5," serving as the stations communication consultant. He has also appeared on "Good Morning America." Roy served as the Director of Public Relations for the Volunteer Office in the White House during the first Clinton Administration.

He is a professor of communication and psychology who taught at George Washington University, University of Maryland, Notre Dame College of Ohio and Towson University. Roy is the author of 31 books. Several years ago, he was selected by Cleveland Magazine as one of the most interesting people in Cleveland.

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