Friday, March 2, 2012

Carrie: Chilling Teen Returns to the Stage

The famous 80's Broadway flop Carrie returns to the stage in a chilling, but overall unsatisfying revival.  A strong cast and moving songs can't rescue the material from coming across as dated and stiff.  Rather than a fresh, edgy teen story it felt like an awkward PSA for the dangers of mixing bullying and telekinesis.

Carrie White (Molly Ranson) is a repressed teenager tormented and bullied by her classmates and locked in a closet by her religious-zealot mother (Marin Mazzie).  After she reaches delayed puberty at 17 (with a graphic getting-her-period-in-gym-class scene), she discovers she has the power of telekinesis which flows from her rage and repression.  After the teasing gets out of control, popular girl, Chris Hargensen (Jenna DeWaal), refuses to apologize to Carrie and Chris is banned from the prom.  Feeling bad for teasing Carrie, Sue Snell (Kristy Altomare), popular girl and girlfriend of Tommy Ross (Derek Klena), asks Tommy to take Carrie to the prom.   These two events lead to tragic consequences.

For the positive aspects of this production, I actually got goose-bumps a couple of times during the show.  Although the original production was known for it's camp, this production is straight-forward and bone-chillingly serious.  The special effects were well executed including the famous pig's blood scene.  There were genuine surprises and it is rare that I find myself scared in play or musical.

Molly Ranson is great as Carrie bringing real sadness, confusion and child-like exploration to the role.  Marin Mazzie is terrifying as the mother and might actually swallow pieces of furniture with her giant mouth.

But overall, the show kept losing me.
The young cast attempts to create the teen movie spirit but the book and direction lets them down.  No amount of jumping choreography, cheerleader shorty-shorts or forced high school pep seemed to help.  I understood what they were going for but somehow the show did not grab me emotionally.  30+ years of teen movies since Carrie have explored many of these themes and this show did not seem to add much to that canon. 

No big surprise that the characters are teen movie archetypes.  But it is hard to believe any teen movie girl would give up her spot at the prom with her handsome boyfriend because she felt bad about teasing someone.  Something seemed to be missing from the Sue backstory to justify her actions.

Although the subject matter of bullying is still substantively relevant, as executed, it did not feel like a fresh or inventive take on the subject.  Even though it is a revival (albeit one that has been seriously revamped in the intervening years between the original production and now), it still should deliver something new to today's audiences.  Despite occasional special effects, the remainder of the production felt anemic.  Perhaps it was the stripped down set, the bleak colorless approach or the awkward direction but I did not find the characters believable or worth the emotional investment.  In the end I was disappointed in the overall production even if I could be chilled and swept up in moments.

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