Los Angeles Theater Review: CARRIE: THE KILLER MUSICAL EXPERIENCE (Los Angeles Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on October 12, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


The key words in the title Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience are Killer Experience. Director Brady Schwind has taken a forever-troubled musical based on source material which probably should have never been musicalized and turned it into one of the most blazingly memorable and, yes, killer experiences you may ever have in the theater.

Carrie: The Musical (Los Angeles Theater, Oct 2015)The 1974 epistolary novel of the same name put Stephen King on the map (it was the fourth he wrote but the first to be published). When a high school girl, raised by an abusive religious zealot of a mother, is bullied and humiliated at school by just about everyone except for a few sensitive souls, her telekinetic powers emerge, and–no surprise if you know Mr. King’s works–revenge and horror ensue.

Lawrence D. Cohen’s book follows his screenplay for the iconic 1976 Brian De Palma movie more than the novel, and while the libretto is the best thing about the musical, Cohen curiously gives the show’s point of view to Carrie’s classmate, Sue Snell; ironically, a musical called Carrie isn’t really about Carrie White, even if she does have more songs than Sue (even this wonderful production feels weird and forced when a flashbacking Sue is being interrogated by unseen police). In addition, the narrative contains few of the tropes associated with successful musicals.

Carrie: The Musical (Los Angeles Theater, Oct 2015)The point is that even if you’re Sondheim, this is tricky material to make into a musical. Songsmiths Michael Gore (music) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics), both terrific pop song writers, simply could not crack this nut. The songs are occasionally competent, but usually bland. The language of youth and rage occasionally shines through, but the true exploration of the depth of despair at the heart of existential panic known as “becoming an adult” is sorely lacking. (To this day, theatrical producers think that if writers can create brilliant pop songs, they must be able to write for a musical—which is a completely different beast.) 24 years after Carrie opened and flopped on Broadway (1988, 5 performances), Cohen, Gore & Pitchford retooled their baby for an Off-Braodway run, and while some jaw-droppingly incongruous numbers were excised, and some decent ones added, the score simply doesn’t fly.

Yet this production–and a few actors in it–does.

For Carrie the musical to work, it needs spectacularly amazing special effects, immersive staging, astute casting, authenticity. and a dark, sharp edge. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at the gorgeous Los Angeles Theatre in downtown.

The show takes place on the stage of the 2000-seat theater, so it’s actually an intimate outing (you are encouraged to explore the erstwhile movie palace before and after the show–there are Carrie-inspired dioramas throughout). With popping light bulbs, falling blood, telekinetic-driven articles that float and tremble, and four front rows of the bleacher-style seating moving around like the Land of Energy at EPCOT, this eye-popping thrill ride is a technical feat that demands precision timing Carrie: The Musical (Los Angeles Theater, Oct 2015)(Lora K. Powell, stage manager) and design (Brian Gifford, sets, Brian Gale, lights, Terry Hanrahan, props, Jim Steinmeyer, illusion design). Brian P. Kennedy’s muscular conducting never overwhelms the performers, thanks to Cricket S. Myers’ smooth and well-balanced sound design (we could hear every word, but it seems that wireless mics will forever be tetchy).

Both Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton as the supernatural daughter and nightmare mother wisely infuse vulnerability into roles which could easily become overwrought. They both have an amazing set of pipes, but Cotton in particular makes you (almost) forget that her songs have an inappropriate pop beat that feels closer to a Disney Oscar-winning pop song than a cousin to, say, Sweeney Todd. As Sue’s boyfriend and school jock Tommy, Jon Robert Hall delivers the show’s best ballad, “Dreamer in Disguise,” and both Valerie Rose Curiel and Garrett Marshall are so astoundingly accurate as bad girl Chris and her ne’er-do-well boyfriend Billy that I expected them to be selling joints at intermission.

As if it’s not exciting enough that this show may signal the onset of Broadway St. as a home for Broadway-style theater (it’s the first musical to appear at the ornate, opulent theater, which opened with the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights in 1931), this La Mirada Theatre production takes a pig’s ear of a musical and turns it into a magic football that sails over the end zone into theatrical history. I wouldn’t be surprised if this fun, inspiring, surprising event ends up as a national tour.

Carrie: The Musical (Los Angeles Theater, Oct 2015)

photos by JasonNiedle.com

Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience
Bruce Robert Harris, Jack W. Batman, and The Transfer Group
Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 6:30
(some Sat’s at 6:30 & 11 – check dates)
ends on November 22, 2015
for tickets, call 888.596.1027 or visit Experience Carrie

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