THE BASICS: This is the WNY premiere of the infamous stage version of the film hit of 1976, from a novel by Stephen King. This ART of WNY production, directed by Christopher Standart and with music direction by Michael Hake, plays weekends through October 10th in the auditorium at Medaille College. The show, with its 15 minute intermission, runs approximately two hours and ten minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Mousy, misfit teen Carrie White, only child of the solitary, psycho-religious Mary White, is tortured, mocked and set-up by her peers during her final days at high school. The stress is compounded by her horrible home life. But wait–poor miserable Carrie discovers that she has telekinetic powers. When a pity-invite raises her hopes, and gets her to the senior prom, the stage is set for a night from hell…
THE PLAY, THE PLAYWRIGHT AND THE PRODUCTION: Making a stage musical from a popular, well-regarded film is a dodgy proposition at best. For every success (I think that John Waters’ HAIRSPRAY qualifies), there are a whole lot of failures. CARRIE certainly falls into the latter category, losing its backers upwards of $7 million dollars in 1988, and being shut down after a mere five Broadway performances! The De Palma film, a psychological thriller with a trashy bloodbath ending, was carried by two really terrific performances—from Cissy Spacek (Carrie) and Piper Laurie (Margaret, the Mom). Both ladies got Oscar nods, almost unheard of for a horror film. The ART production has two talented, hard working ladies in these lead roles—Marina Laurendi and Mary Coppola Gjurich. Laurendi, who has a terrific set of pipes, projects booming confidence with every note. There is talk of Carrie’s mousiness, of her introversion and fragility, but we never see it onstage. This is a big problem. Gjurich’s mom is a towering, complex figure, with her s-mother love and sudden rages, but is a far cry from the ghastly, creepy psycho that Piper Laurie gave us. Lawrence D. Cohen, who adapted his own 1976 screenplay, seems to have wanted to “deepen” the tale, and provide it with some kind of moral. Director Standart is clearly keen on making things intense; his “high school kids” are snarling, vicious, creatures, right from the get-go. Jenny McCabe as Sue Snell, Carrie’s conflicted semi-friend, has the most human, sympathetic “child” role, and is, to me, the most successful. Some of the actors, like Heather Reed and Timothy Goehrig, are just too old, but as Tommy Ross, Sue’s boyfriend, Goehrig does imbue his part with a hesitant, self-effacing quality that rings true. I’d love to see a production of this with real high school kids; I suspect it would work a whole lot better.
Michael Gore (music) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics), the team from FAME, have fashioned a rather lacklustre pop/soft rock score. You won’t go out whistling anything. Best I liked the quiet, sensitive numbers, like “Dreamer in Disguise” and “You Shine”. Michael Hake’s little ensemble is tight. With the clear exception of Ms. Laurendi, this cast could use some practice in enunciation. There’s no reason why words or phrases should be lost to someone seated in the second row.
Dominic Giambra has provided some pleasing dance and motion elements. The set by Tom LaChiusa is stark but adequate. Kudos to Katie Ludwig for the stunning conflagration lighting-effect at the finale.
IN SUM: Despite its roots in horror, CARRIE, THE MUSICAL is, at heart, a very conventional show. If only it were richer, more psychological, more offbeat. It’s been reworked and reworked and reworked. Tried, and tried, and tried out yet again. A multitude of songs have come and gone. And yet, like its namesake, it’s still a problem child! The De Palma film, on the other hand, continues to impress. Here’s a perfect example of where they (the Entertainment Establishment) should have left well enough alone!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!