There are horrific and spellbinding moments aplenty to savor in Studio Theatre’s SecondStage current production of the alternately beloved and reviled camp, cult classic musical Carrie. Based on the Stephen King novel and the 1976 Brian DePalma film as well as various theatrical incarnations, Co-Directors Keith Alan Baker and Jacob Janssen revel in the almost surrealistic edge and humor of this piece which enthrallingly envelops this unique theatrical experience. However, this is a Carrie with a much more universal appeal in that the emphasis is on very real human interaction and emotions -especially as reflected in the themes of peer pressure, isolation, conformity, and the anguish of being an outsider. (many of the same themes were evoked in the recent production of another cult favorite, Sideshow, at The Kennedy Center).
Directors Baker and Janssen guide this talented ensemble through a production of Carrie where the accent is decidedly on more of an air of diverting escapism that flows breezily from one song to the next.
The musical score by Michael Gore (music) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics) is undeservedly underrated and the songs enhance the action in a very organic way. The more sensationalistic aspects such as psychic powers and telekinesis are on effectively on display here but they do not dominate the proceedings.
The intimate SecondStage space serves this material well (Book by Lawrence D. Cohen) and Set Designer Luciana Stecconi wisely utilizes the space by setting the action in a large gymnasium –type school space that segue ways fluidly into the White home in the center of the stage. The fairly large cast of talented young adults that portray the high school students who alternately tease and mock Carrie are a talented and physically vigorous group and they fill the stage with constant eye-catching movement (Expert Choreography by Michael J. Bobbitt). These exuberant actors serve as a sort of Greek Chorus to the main core of the musical concerning Carrie’s friends who support her -Sue Snell (Maria Rizzo) and Tommy Ross (Robert Mueller) and the two characters who despise Carrie-Chris Hargensen (Eben K. Logan) and Billy Nolan (A.J. Melendez). The ruminations of the Snell character serve as a framing device at the beginning of the musical and throughout the musical, and Maria Rizzo is superb in every nuance of her part.
As mentioned earlier, the musical score is underrated and the five-piece band and the glorious ravishing voices of the cast are held together by the superior guidance of Musical Director Darius Smith. Two large ensemble numbers that are marvelous to behold are “In” as well as “A Night We’ll Never Forget.” Eben K. Logan delivers a powerful rendition of “The World According to Chris” in which she espouses her philosophy of looking out for number one. Jamie Eacker as Miss Gardiner shines in the reprise of “Unsuspecting Hearts.”
The menstrual blood of Carrie is a precursor of the gore to come in this sometimes uneasy mix of alternating shifts of tone but this version does, indeed, focus on the more real and emotional. One cannot look away at the powerful center of the story which, of course, is the central character of Carrie (Emily Zickler) and her religious fanatic mother (Broadway veteran Barbara Walsh). Zickler is effective in her acting but, more so in her vocalizing. Especially stunning are her duets with Walsh. Walsh enriches every scene she is in with an emotional immediacy and a steely delicacy in every delivery of a line. Walsh is absolutely riveting in the songs “And Eve Was Weak” and “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance”.
Studio Theatre’s riveting production of Carrie: The Musical will transport you to another world!
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.