BWW Review: CARRIE THE MUSICAL at Open Stage Of Harrisburg
Stephen King's Carrie is, sadly, a timeless tale. A story of bullying, abuse, religious fanaticism, shame, guilt, revenge, and a desperate desire to belong, it is a story we hear echoed almost every day. Rampant bullying (made even more sinister and invasive through technology), violence in schools, and mass killings are highlighted in the news far too often. We find ourselves asking questions: Why do people treat one another this way? How could someone kill that many people? What drove this individual to violence? Why didn't anyone step up to help before it was too late? Carrie forces us to confront these questions and more as we see young Carrie White, object of ridicule at school and abuse at home, reach her breaking point with devastating consequences.
Stephen King's novel Carrie, published in 1974 has been adapted several times. One of the most famous adaptations is the 1976 movie starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as Margaret White. In 1988 it was first adapted for the stage and became one of Broadway's most infamous flops. Revised and revived by the original writing team in 2009, Carrie the Musical enjoyed off-Broadway success and has since been produced in numerous regional theatres. Carrie the Musical opens the 33rd season at Open Stage of Harrisburg, and if the rest of their season is as phenomenal as Carrie, audiences have a great deal to look forward to.
While there were times when the balance of sound was off, with the orchestra overpowering the vocals, this was easily one of the best performances I have seen this year. From the blocking and choreography to the set design, lighting, and costuming, all of the elements of this show came together to create just the right atmosphere for Carrie the Musical. With real lockers, overhead lights, and benches, the school scenes transport the audience back to high school days. They even pulled off the shower scene with the use of lighting, curtains, and smoke that made it look like the girls were actually showering after gym class. As Carrie begins to experiment with her telekinetic powers, the effects are amazing-with proper lighting and perfect timing, it truly looks like she is turning the pages of a book, opening and closing doors and windows, and finally killing her classmates with only her mind. The level of realism the team at Open Stage was able to produce is breathtaking.
Combine the technical aspects of the production with the talent of the cast, and it is a show you will not want to miss.
Maggie Haynes and Brad Barkdoll portray Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan-the kids that audiences will love to hate. Haynes approaches her role with great intensity, layering cynicism, sarcasm, and anger into her body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Her final line in the song "The World According to Chris" is delivered with a sense of sadness and resignation that clues the audience in to the fact that there may be more to her that what we see-that there may be reasons for her attitude that we'll never get to know. It's beautiful and displays a vulnerability in Chris that is hidden for most of the show. Barkdoll's interpretation of Billy Nolan is a great match for Haynes. While at the beginning of the show he comes across as simply a bully with a devil may care attitude, toward the end, you get the sense that he may be starting to regret being pulled into Chris's plot for revenge.
While Haynes and Barkdoll play the ringleaders of the crew, the rest of the ensemble is just as strong in vocals and acting. Erin Shellenberger, Amanda Adams, and Elena Rossetto take on the roles of Norma, Frieda, and Helen. Benny Benamati, Israel Orengo, and Shakeil Kanish round out the group as Freddy, Stokes, and George. These actors have found subtle nuances in their characters that keep them from being flat. While they are all clearly trying to be tough and mean in order to fit in, the audience can see that it is not an easy or natural thing for all of them. Because of the nuanced ways they approach these parts, it's easy to remember the lyrics of the opening song "In", which was a fantastic opening number, when they all sing about how difficult it is to be themselves when confronted with the pressures of fitting in.
Of course, any story about high school simply isn't complete without a couple of school officials-in the case of Carrie, we meet Miss Gardner and Mr. Stephens, skillfully portrayed by Alexis Dow Campbell and Chris Gibson. At times displaying attitudes and behaviors almost as bad as the teens they are trying to teach, these characters could easily be very stereotypical. Campbell and Gibson, however, explore various facets of their characters that could be overlooked by less skilled actors. Campbell particularly shines in her character's confrontation with Chris Hargensen and in the aftermath of that confrontation. The mix of emotions her character feels in that scene-frustration and disgust with Chris combined with her concern, fear, and compassion for Carrie-are beautifully expressed by Campbell. Similarly, Gibson's Mr. Stephens really comes to life in his classroom scene when he encourages Carrie to speak up in class, showing a more compassionate and tender side to this educator who seems to have just about given up on his students.
Hofer displays amazing agility and versatility in her acting as her character experiences a range of situations and emotions swinging from scared and distraught to angry to sweet and in love to guilty and back again. When the show opens with her interrogation about the evening of the prom, her demeanor and body language make the audience experience all of the emotions her character is going through-fear, discomfort, guilt, frustration, anger, and despair. Her duet with Wallace's Tommy Ross, "You Shine", is adorable and filled with not only great harmonies, but great connection between the characters. Her character's final scene with Carrie is heart-wrenching, as both actors approach the scene with raw emotion.
Ian Wallace is the perfect Tommy Ross, portraying the all-American good guy that everyone likes while still showing us how difficult it is to be that guy and to fit in. Wallace's amazing voice is soars in the beautiful song "Dreamer in Disguise", and the care and concern he shows for Carrie in the prom scene is touching.
Kayla Brooks and Rachel Landon are stand-outs in an already outstanding cast. Their scenes together are some of the most intense, heart-breaking, passionate scenes of the show. Their voices are well-matched and handle some of the most complex songs with ease.
Compared to other versions of this character, Landon's Margaret White is surprisingly sympathetic. Landon brings out pieces of Margaret's story that help the audience to see how her past and her religious fanaticism have resulted in her feelings of shame, abusive over-protectiveness, and love with respect to her daughter Carrie. It's difficult to put into words how Landon was able to portray these conflicting emotions. Suffice it to say that this is a Margaret White that audiences will not soon forget, particularly when they experience her song "When There's No One" in the second act.
Kayla Brooks delivers a wonderful performance as the title character Carrie White. From the very beginning, her reactions to the other kids at school, posture, body language, and lack of eye contact give the impression of someone who has been completely beaten down by life and by those around her. She has no self-esteem or confidence, trying to hide herself from notice as much as possible by hunching up her shoulders and looking at the floor. As Carrie begins to discover that she may actually have some power over her life and others, her demeanor and posture begin to change. While still unsure of herself, starting with her confrontation with her mother over whether she can go to prom, she begins to hold her head up higher and to speak her mind. The performance Brooks gives in her final scenes, beginning with the prom, are so mesmerizing that I didn't even take any notes-I'm not even sure I took a breath as the play reached its climax and conclusion.
Open Stage of Harrisburg has kicked off their 33rd season with a show that will be hard to top. I have seldom seen a cast and production team handle such difficult topics with such compassion and authenticity-drawing the audience in and reminding us all that our words and actions, no matter how big or small, have a profound impact on the world around us.
Get your tickets to see this incredible show now through October 26th by visiting www.openstagehbg.com.