by Terrance Mc Arthur
Carrie: The Musical moves you—and not because of her psychokinetic powers. The whole idea of a tuneful version of Stephen King’s breakthrough novel (and the Brian DePalma film adaptation that made Sissy Spacek a star) makes people go “Huh?” However, this remade version can grab a heart like the girl’s mind-controlled powers.
The musical has an interesting history. With a script by Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the screenplay for the 1978 film), and songs by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford (who teamed to write the title song for Fame; they won an Oscar. Pitchford went on to write the screenplay of Footloose), the original 1988 Broadway production closed after five performances. A limited-run, Off-Broadway, reworked 2012 revival from the same team was considered a success. That version is playing at the Selma Arts Center through August 6.
Carrie White (Abigail Halpern) is tormented by fellow students for not knowing about menstruation. She is abused by her hyper-religious mother (Carly Oliver) who tells her sin brought on her curse. One of her tormenters (Caitlyn Lopez) feels guilt, and gets her boyfriend (Chris Ortiz-Belcher) to take Carrie to the prom. The queen B of the Mean Girls (Imani Branch) blames Carrie for her loss of prom privileges, and enlists her bad-boy boyfriend (Vincent Paz Macareno) to stage a messy revenge. That’s when Carrie’s power to move things and control others comes bursting out in an explosion of paranormal puberty.
Halpern has a powerful voice, making the title song into the revenge-fantasy equivalent of “I Am What I Am.” She is shy and hesitant until her moment of happiness and acceptance at the prom, which turns into frightening wrath when she feels betrayed. Her vocal and emotional ranges are impressive.
Oliver manages to generate sympathy for a guilt-ridden mother who channels her shame for allowing a man to have his way with her into a skewed fundamentalism that twists her daughter’s world. Her vocal soliloquy is frightening, yet we feel for her.
Branch lays out the me-centered world view of her character in “The World According to Chris,” and each word is filled with self-entitlement. Branch takes over the stage in her scenes, a malignant force who has to crush others.
Lopez, as Sue, is interrogated by unseen questioners about the events of that spring. Frightened and unsure, far from the in-crowd denizen she once was, the scenes of the show trace her journey into someone who cares about the consequences of her actions, and her desire to do the right thing, even when it turns to disaster. This is a play made of Sue’s memories, and the Madisen Padilla’s scenery is projected onto the burned and damaged ruins of the present, designed by Nicolette C. Andersen and Eric Andersen.
Ortiz-Belcher is noble and sensitive, shining in “Dreamer in Disguise,” Tommy’s poem that moves Carrie to express herself in class for the first time. Macareno is loathsome as the oldest high school student around, Chris’s means of upsetting her parents by dating someone unsuitable.
Brittney Burriss represents compassionate authority as the gym teacher who tries to deal with Carrie’s lack of knowledge about the world, while suspecting Sue’s motives for trying to be a friend.
The vocals are strong and crisp. Lexis Hamilton’s choreography is lively and well-executed. This show is not sweetness and light. It’s an anti-High School Musical, littered with coarse language and rude behavior. Maybe it’s the real High School Musical…with more blood.
The Selma Arts Center is at 1935 High Street, Selma, CA. For more information, call (559) 891-2238 or go to their website.
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