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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience
Nod and cackle, we most certainly do at this cleverly arranged spectacle cooked up by Schwind, his crackerjack technical team and a bloody fine cast. While the makers of Broadway's upcoming adaptation of King's Misery will almost certainly go in a different creative direction, would-be King adaptors should pay close attention to what Schwind has pulled off at the Los Angeles Theater. Here's proof positive that if life gives you lemons, forget about lemonade. Build yourself make a glorious, messy atomic bomb instead.
The first Carrie go-round was indeed a lemon. Featuring a book by Laurence D. Cohen, music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford, the 1988 Broadway production of Carrie closed after five performances and became pretty much the poster child for theatrical failure.
Schwind and the creators have tinkered, cut and added judiciously, and the revised work now has its own very distinct point of view and style. This new incarnation, which premiered in April at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, taps into the notion that anyone who ever attended high school had some experience either as persecutor or persecuted. And certainly, given the number of school and university shootings that seem to increase each year, the topic of an anonymous nobody reaching a breaking point remains disturbingly relevant.
The delight of this "killer musical experience" is that our stomachs twist and our hackles rise in empathy at the torment and shame heaped on Carrie White by her classmates and at home. We move through areas of the theater that have been decked out to depict the ravaged Ewen High School where Carrie is set.
We sit on bleachers that are riddled with graffiti, and when music director Brian P. Kennedy launches into the opening number "In," those bleachers are shoved into the action. Thus, we have a disturbingly close view of Carrie (played by Emily Lopez) experiencing her first period in the locker room shower and its brutal aftermath. We are there in the White household when Carrie's fire and brimstone mother Margaret (Misty Cotton) takes a belt to her daughter. And we have a great seat for that climactic second act prom.
Carrie, it will be remembered, has some rather impressive telekinetic powers which she hasn't quite learned how to control. With the help of illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer, flight choreographer Paul Rubin, scenic designer Stephen Gifford and lighting designer Brian Gale, something (or someone) is levitating, shattering or collapsing. Combined with the immersive staging concept, those effects are a kick, easily the production's signature.
Even better, the technical bells and whistles are in service of a product that is better than its god-awful reputation. There are some real gems in Gore and Pitchford's score including both boisterous kid numbers and tender ballads. Playing one of the show's few adult roles, Cotton channels every bit of Margaret's zealotry into the show-stopping "When There's No One." Valerie Rose Curiel's Chris makes for a sweetly detestable ringleader of the bullies grandly fronting "The World According to Chris."
By no means is Chris the only person making Carrie's life a living hell. Practically the entire student body seems out to get the misfit who they have nicknamed "Scary White." She's an easy target. Carrie is openly religious, dresses like a bag lady, keeps to herself and never fights back. After the shower incident, classmate Sue Snell (Kayla Parker) who has known Carrie since childhood, undergoes a change of heart and enlists the help of her boyfriend, Tommy (Jon Robert Hall) to try to improve Carrie's fortunes. Less forgiving are rich girl Chris and her reprobate boyfriend Billy (Garrett Marshall) who plot one honey of a revenge prank.
On the home front, things aren't much rosier for Carrie since her mother holds Carrie responsible for the persecution she endures. It makes for the perfect storm of isolation and bitterness for a kid who is seeking a shred of love or acceptance.
As campy as all of this might be, Schwind keeps things level. Actors taking on sympathetic characters play things straight, from Hall's sensitive jock Tommy to Parker's guilt-wracked Sue who is telling the story in flashback. Jenelle Lynn Randall as the knowing gym teacher establishes some touching chemistry with our beleaguered heroine. When she pulls out a mirror and informs Carrie simply "now that's a pretty girl," it is probably the first time Carrie has ever heard a compliment.
Lopez, who was already marvelous in the La Mirada premiere of Carrie, is layering her work the deeper into Carrie she tunnels. The actress nails the character's naivete, never telegraphing the horrors that are to come. Soft-spoken, tall and slightly gawky, Lopez's Carrie is a Cinderella who, yes, cleans up beautifully for her ball and still winds up getting treated like offal.
A Carrie like Lopez's is someone we will pull out an Uzi to defend. No need. Thanks to the magic of Schwind's killer production, the girl's got it under control.