BWW Review: CARRIE at Cultural Arts Playhouse
Just in time for Halloween, the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset is generating goosebumps with its thrilling production of "Carrie."
Based on the Stephen King novel and its 1976 film adaptation starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, the musical follows the misfortunes of outcast Carrie White as she tries to survive her days at Chamberlain High surrounded by cruel classmates who look for any excuse to torment her while also balancing the religious ramblings of her unhinged mother. While the campy, original 1988 musical became a notorious flop - despite the star power of Betty Buckley as Margaret White - CAP's production takes its inspiration from the stripped down revival that debuted off-broadway in 2012 and led to acclaimed productions in Seattle and Los Angeles as well as regional theaters and high schools across the country.
On opening night - which fittingly featured a stormy night outside the confines of the theatre - Danielle Jenkin was in top form vocally and acting-wise as the titular character. She balances Carrie's inherent meek and mild spirit with the notion that something is brewing inside her - in this case the powers of telekinesis that comes to fruition after she begins menstruation. We feel for her as her classmates pelt her with tampons, infamously urging her to "plug it up," root for her when she stands up to her mother and cry for her when prom night becomes a living hell. Ms. Jenkin shares the role with Kaitlyn Meriam, who can be seen on alternate nights.
Sarah Berger plays Carrie's foil as the pretty, popular, but well-meaning Sue Snell. Much of the show revolves around the interrogation of Snell, who is revealed to be the only survivor in the aftermath of prom night.
After participating in an act of bullying Carrie, Sue spends the remainder of the show trying to pay for her sins and eventually lands on the idea of having her boyfriend Tommy, played by talented Michael Creta in this performance, take Carrie to the prom in her stead. Despite the darkness that surrounds many of the characters in the musical, Ms. Berger is a ray of light - a force of good, but unfortunately one that proves no good deed goes unpunished. Her acting is stellar and her vocals are pitch perfect. It is no wonder she has become a familiar name in CAP's playbills.
Carmela Newman also makes an impression as Margaret White. She balances the character's fanaticism and motherly intentions without falling into cliches. Her Act II performance of "When There's No One" is incredibly poignant and somehow makes us feel for this antagonist.
However, it's hard to find sympathy for Carrie's main adversary - mean girl Chris Hargensen. Danielle Zito gives a deliciously devious performance that will give audience members flashbacks to the biggest bad of their high school. Her number "The World According to Chris" is showstopping. Catherine Gerbasi will play Chris in alternate performances. She is joined by her right hand man and boyfriend Billy Nolan played by Michael Visconti - fresh off his run as Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer. Looking at both roles back to back, his range is incredible. He shares the role with Jared Grossman.
Still, Carrie does find her fairy godmother of sorts in gym teacher Miss Gardner - played by the skilled Taneisha Corbin, reprising the same role she played the last time CAP staged "Carrie" in 2013. Her duet with Carrie, "Unsuspecting Hearts," is heartwarming and almost gives the audience hope for a happy ending - almost.
The production also features a stellar ensemble playing Carrie's classmates. Each member carves themselves a distinct personality that is evident on stage. Modern touches such as Norma's tendencies to record everything on her cell phone are noticed and reflect on today's selfie-obsessed culture.
It is clear director Tony Frangipane has put his all into this show with its excellent production value - including mesmerizing special effects.
If you're looking for a unique theatrical experience this fall, "Carrie" is just the ticket.
"Carrie" is presented by the Cultural Arts Playhouse through October 22. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (516) 694-3330 or visit cap.booktix.com
Music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and book by Lawrence D. Cohen. Directed by Tony Frangipane, Assistant Directed by Diane Marmann, Set Design by Thomas McKenna, Lighting Design by Jaxon Hickey, Musical Direction by Rich Giordano, Choreographed by Eliana Kayelle, Sound Effect Design and Special Effects by Tony Frangipane
Band: Rich Giordano as Conductor/Keyboards, AJ Vita on Guitar, James Nadien on Drums, Brendan Rey on Bass
Starring: Danielle Jenkin/Kaitlyn Meriam as Carrie White, Carmela Newman, u/s Danielle Zito as Margaret White, Sarah Berger as Sue Snell, Michael Creta/Scott Johnston as Tommy Ross, Catherine Gerbasi/Danielle Zito as Chris Hargensen, Mike Visconti/Jared Grossman as Billy Nolan, Taneisha Corbin as Ms. Gardner, James Walsh as Mr. Stephens, Adriana M. Scheer as Norma, Katie Johnson as Freida, Warren Tierney as Stokes, Melissa Kleiman as Helen, Jared Glazer as Freddy, Gage Deoquino as George
Photo Credits: Diane Marmann