BWW Reviews: FlynnArts Opens a Chilling CARRIE

FlynnArts Summer Youth Theater opened CARRIE, THE MUSICAL on Thursday, July 18 at Burlington's FlynnSpace at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

Based on Stephen King's novel, CARRIE is a musical with a turbulent history. The 1984 New York City workshop and the 1988 Stratford-upon-Avon tryout met with mixed reviews, and the Broadway production flopped in May of 1988 after just a handful of performances.

2009 saw a major revamp of CARRIE by its creators, composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford, and bookwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, along with director Stafford Arima. The revision met with critical acclaim in a 2012 off-Broadway revival featuring Molly Ranson as Carrie White and Marin Mazzie as Margaret White. With the success of the re-imagined show, performance rights were made available and productions have sprung up across the country. The FlynnArts production marks the Vermont premiere of CARRIE, THE MUSICAL.

The storyline follows a group of high school students in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie White, the awkward social outcast and daughter of religious zealot Margaret White, is taunted mercilessly by her peers. If you've read the Stephen King novel, you've got the gist of the plot - religious fanaticism, teenage rage, and eerie telekinetic powers collide, culminating in a prom night that turns tragic.

The fact that the FlynnArts production is a youth musical, with no cast member over the age of 19, is remarkably irrelevant. There are no weak links in this cast, and many of the young actors display near-professional ability.

Zoë Olson is riveting as the painfully shy Carrie White. Her journey from silent victimhood to empowerment is uncanny and terrifying, and Olson uses both voice and physicality to truly inhabit this role.

Cassidy Thompson's portrayal of Carrie's mother is extraordinary. It's rare for a teenager to possess the maturity to be convincing in an adult role (particularly one as complicated as Margaret White), and Thompson doesn't just manage it - she delivers a level of nuance that many seasoned adult actors never achieve.

Bonnie Currie is perfect as Sue Snell, the one female student who treats Carrie with kindness. Sue is the primary witness to the horrid events that transpire on prom night, and her testimony guides the audience through the story. Currie does an especially fine job of navigating Sue's struggle to find the balance between being popular and being kind.

Chiara Hollender is Chris Hargensen, Sue's best friend and Carrie's chief tormentor. Hollender's portrayal is wonderfully devilish, and she also manages to find the character's undercurrent of loneliness. Charlie Aldrich hits all the right comedic moments as the swaggering bad boy, Billy Nolan, and Adam Brewer is charming as Sue's kind, level-headed boyfriend who agrees to take Carrie to the prom. Evan Cohen is hilarious as Mr. Stephens, the English teacher, and Olivia Christie delivers some lovely moments as Miss Gardner, Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher.

The cast is vocally strong throughout, and the principals are backed by a fantastic-sounding group of supporting and ensemble characters, played by Audrey Teague, Pearl Guerriere, Kira Johnson, Seamus Buxton, Jackson Bisaccia, Max Chlumecky, Shea Dunlop, Zelda Ferris, Olivia Peltier, Maddy Smith, Arlo Cohen, Seth Jolles, Nathaniel Miller, and Alec Rutherford.

The staging is excellent, and lighting design (Jamien Lundy Forrest), costume design (Olivia Hern), and video/projection design (Dom Wood) are especially effective. The ensemble of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard is top-notch. This production clearly benefits from a skilled creative team, including directors Christina Weakland, Gina Fearn, and Danielle Sertz, and musical director Piero Bonamico. The team has worked with the cast to examine the elements of school culture at play in this plot, and an excerpt from the directors' note in the program captures the heart of the story:

"Humiliation and ridicule are all too common elements of growing up in our society, and the implications range from damaged self-esteem that impacts lifelong relationships patterns, to full-scale horror, like the massacres at Columbine and Newtown. School shooting have, in fact, become a norm in America; there have been over 74 instances in the past 18 months alone, and bullying is linked to 7 out of 10 of these violent events. [...] We hope audiences (teen or not) will take away from CARRIE the inspiration to do better, to affirm each others' humanity, to respect the dignity in each soul."

Stafford Arima, director of the 2012 off-Broadway revival of CARRIE, spent a day with the FlynnArts cast, deepening their understanding of the piece. "The team at CARRIE in Burlington, Vermont have put together an impressive production [...] that tells this story with clarity, horror, and heart," says Arima. "Congratulations to the entire cast, creative team, and musicians on a successful run."

FlynnArts provides this age advisory for CARRIE, THE MUSICAL: Although bloody, Carrie is not actually gory. (The blood is a cruel prank meant to humiliate Carrie about the onset of her period.) Overall this is a tale of bullying and supernatural revenge (which will take an abstract form in this production - no gruesome violence.) Carrie's mother also demonstrates an abusive parenting style that some children (and adults!) might find disturbing to experience in close proximity. That said, we think most youth aged 11+ can handle the content with a parent or guardian present to field questions, and the ultimate anti-bullying message of the piece is a vital one for middle- and high-schoolers to grasp.

CARRIE continues through Sunday July 20 at FlynnSpace in Burlington. THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD opens July 31, and continues through August 3.

Click HERE for FlynnArts tickets and additional information.

Image courtesy of FlynnArts.

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From This Author Erin McIntyre

Erin McIntyre is delighted to be writing about Vermont's rich performing arts scene. She spent a number of years in New York City singing, acting, (read more...)