BWW Reviews: Balagan's CARRIE: THE MUSICAL Shines Despite Production and Material Woes
Any true Broadway Geek knows of the infamous flop that is "Carrie: The Musical". Having only run for 16 previews and 5 actual performances back in 1988, some believed it to be one of the worst shows around while others still proclaimed its merits and longed for its return. So when the show was retooled by authors Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford and Lawrence D. Cohen and an Off-Broadway run was announced for 2012, the news was met with excitement and skepticism. The modest run was enough to remove some of the stigma of the show and made the show ripe for regional productions to put their stamp on it. And this leads us to 2013 as powerhouse company Balagan Theatre mounts their production with none other than Tony Award Winner Alice Ripley in the role of Carrie's Mother, Margaret White. And while the show itself is now about half good, the Balagan Production manages enough stellar moments to make the show into something special but they still have a ways to go to achieve greatness.
Based on the Stephen King novel, we meet Carrie White (Keaton Whittaker), a meek high school student with an overbearing and hyper religious Mother (Ripley). Much to her Mother's dismay Carrie is becoming a woman and asserting a little dominance by standing up to her Mother and sending objects flying across the room. Oh, did I mention she's developing telekinetic powers? So the bullying kids at school such as the provocative Chris (Tessa Archer) and the perpetual Senior Billy (Andrew Brewer) better watch out. But things begin looking up for Carrie as the kindly gym teacher Miss Gardner (Kendra Kassebaum), and the popular couple Sue and Tommy (Larissa Schmitz and Kody Bringman) begin to look out for her and Tommy even asks her to prom. But the magical evening is bound to be destroyed by the evil machinations of Sue and Billy and their bucket of pig's blood.
As I said, the show is about half good. When we hear from Carrie or her Mother or both we actually have some hauntingly beautiful moments. But then those lovely moments are betrayed by songs from the high school kids which feel like a mix of an angsty Afterschool Special and the forced, non-plot developing songs from an episode of "Glee". From the get go it's easy to see why the show wasn't a success as there is so much stacked against it.
But the Balagan production, directed by Louis Hobson, tries its best. A wonderful cast led by Ripley and Whittaker and some truly breathtaking moments make their mark but even they tend to be overshadowed by some horrifying sound and technical issues and a climactic moment that just felt staged and inadequate (more blood please). And while it is possible that some of these issues could be ironed out in time there are some issues that are beyond help.On the good side however Ripley takes this role and completely disappears within it. She is at the same time creepy and loving, terrifyingly controlling and real. And her voice, to no one's surprise, is phenomenal. Her show stopping number, "When There's No One" is one for the ages and is only made more brilliant by her shudder inducing exit. Whittaker manages to hold her own next to the amazing Ripley and even grab some of the power at times. And her portrayal of this confused teen dealing with not only puberty but mystical powers is stunning. Unfortunately that kind of power in one place and given the good numbers only overshadows the rest of the cast who get the dregs of the show. But even they pull out some good moments from these not so great songs.
Even with all its issues (many of which will hopefully be ironed out) there are three distinct reasons to see this show. One - Alice Ripley who takes Margaret White to a whole new level. Two - Keaton Whittaker who is proving herself to be an absolute star. And three - if you're a musical theater geek like me to be able to say you've actually seen a production of "Carrie" on stage live. And while that last one is becoming less of a distinction, the first two should be enough.