BWW Reviews: Impressive CARRIE THE MUSICAL at La Mirada

Carrie the Musical/book by Lawrence D. Cohen/based on the novel by Stephen King/music by Michael Gore & lyrics by Dean Pitchford/directed by Brady Schwind/choreographed by Lee Martino/La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/through April 5

I remember the melodrama of the film Carrie (1976) and director Brian De Palma's splashy special effects more than anything else. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie really tore up the scenery in their overblown scenes together. Onstage Carrie The Musical brings out so much more. It really zeroes in on the problem of bullying among teenagers and shows the psychological consequences. When a shy girl Carrie (Emily Lopez) has her period for the first time in the girls' shower after PE class, she experiences a devastating ridicule by most of her classmates. She's bright, but dresses shabbily and doesn't know how to stand her ground. At home her mother Margaret (Misty Cotton), a Christian fundamentalist, abuses her in a different way, leading her to believe that she is basically bad and that only Jesus can saver her soul. Carrie discovers that she has telekinesis, a power to move objects at will. When things do not work out for her as she attemps to fit in at the high school prom, she takes control, punishing everyone around her.

Director Brady Schwind has taken the musical which was revamped off-Broadway a couple of years back and has given it a totally new environmental staging at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, currently onstage through April 5 only. The stage is the back part of the regular theatre stage and it has been cordoned off, serving as the high school gymnasium. Audience sit in the three-quarter and watch the action literally a few feet away from them. There are seats on two levels. The first group of seats called the pods are level with the stage. There are levels above for audience through which cast members make entrances and exits and sometimes play/sing and then there is a third level playing area above for only actors. Those sitting in the pods are moved at various intervals to the left and to the right, sometimes mirror imaging each other and other times, not. Hardly your ordinary seating arrangement, but it definitely puts you smack dab in the middle of the playing field. You are there, feeling what the characters are feeling, almost a part of the action.

I sat in the tier above the pods so I had the advantage of looking down at the action on the stage and also up to what was transpiring on the third level. One scene in particular in Act One involves Carrie praying to Jesus on the cross within a room of her house. Jesus literally comes down off the cross and while this is happening, on the third level, Tommy Ross (Jon Robert Hall) and his girlfriend Sue Snell (Kayla Parker) are making torrid love. Quite the contrast as blatant sexuality and spirituality clash in full force right before our eyes! In Act Two what served as the back wall of the gym with basketball scoreboard opens up and becomes the dance floor for the prom. Stephen Gifford's scenic design for the entire show is awesome as is Schwind's staging of the actors, who are literally everywhere within the space, putting audience at arm's length for every experience, good and evil.

Even though this experience is hightened by the set and staging, let's not forget the actors who are nothing short of amazing. Lopez makes a wonderfully smart Carrie, never overplaying, but coming to terms with herself and others in a completely natural manner. Cotton offers a truly remarkable portrait of Margaret who really loves her daughter but clings to the bible to dictate her every move. Parker and Hall make a very effective couple, trying to help Carrie fit in. Jenelle Lynn Randall is outstanding as Miss Gardner, the sympathetic gym teacher.Valerie Rose Curiel and Garrett Marshall steal their scenes as the mischief making students, and Bryan Dobson does nicely as Mr. Stephens/Rev. Bliss. Kudos to the entire ensemble who dance with searing passion and dynamic energy under the superb rhythmic baton of of choreographer Lee Martino. Everyone are triple threat performers donning the acting, singing and dancing caps with finesse. Adriana Lambarri's costumes are spot.on appropriate as contemporary teenage wear, with Carrie and Margaret's garb standing resoundingly apart, kind of like outdated hippies. Brian Gale's lighting/projection design is electric.

Lawrence D Cohen's book is tight, and Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford's score is up, bright and containing a couple of truly beautiful ballads, among them "You Shine", "Unsuspecting Hearts" and Margaret's haunting "When There's No One".

Carrie The Musical begs to be seen, experienced and savored for the superb work from its phenomenal cast and creative team. The superior staging brings you closer to the action and really allows you to feel for these characters. Bravo!

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From This Author Don Grigware