The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts at long last gives Stephen King’s tormented telekinetic teen Carrietta N. White the smash hit musical her fans have been waiting for since Carrie: The Musical’s 1988 Broadway debut became, according to The New York Times, “the most expensive quick flop in Broadway history.”
Musical theater (and horror) fans had good reason to be optimistic back in ’88. Carrie: The Musical was not only based on a popular novel by the master of contemporary horror, its 1974 film adaptation had elevated director Brian De Palma and star Sissy Spacek to new levels of stardom.
True, a bullied high school misfit with a deranged religious fanatic of a mother might not seem the stuff of a traditional “musical comedy,” but times had changed since the days of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers & Hart/Hammerstein and by the late ‘80s Broadway audiences were surely ready for something meatier (and bloodier) than previous fare.
At the very least, composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford had come up with a musical’s most critical element, tuneful songs that not only propel the plot but stick in the memory, a fact easily attested to by anyone who has heard the show’s long-awaited 2012 Premiere Cast Recording.
For whatever reason, however, the original Broadway production is said to have been “greeted with a raucous mix of cheers and boos” and the show closed after a grand total of 21 previews/performances.
Cut to 2012 and the limited-run off-Broadway revival that inspired Brady Schwind to imagine Carrie: The Musical’s Los Angeles Premiere, a dream that has at last come to brilliant fruition in an “audience-immersive” production unlike any other I’ve seen.
Following in the footsteps of Spring Awakening and Floyd Collins, La Mirada’s previous “On Stage” Series offerings (which have taken the actual stage of the 1251-seat theater and converted it into a 200-seat thrust-stage theater-within-a-theater), Carrie: The Musical goes its predecessors one step further by having about 60 of those seats on a quartet of movable platforms that constantly reconfigure the show’s playing area in addition to providing audience members seated in these “E-Ticket” zones with ever-changing perspectives as Carrie’s story unfolds.
Director Schwind and choreographer Lee Martino (once again at her award-winning best) use every inch of Stephen Gifford’s ingenious, multi-level high school gymnasium-inspired set, with an Act Two surprise sure to provoke audience oohs and aahs, as well as some “how did they do that” illusions by Jim Steinmeyer and a number of equally thrilling flying sequences by Paul Rubin adding to the excitement. And yes, there will be blood and destruction.
Book writer Lawrence D. Cohen and lyricist Pitchford have updated Carrie’s story to the Facebook-Instagram present, Carrie’s classmates ubiquitous cell phones making her humiliation at their hands more publicly devastating than it was thirty or forty years ago, and in so doing the duo have helped to eliminate criticisms of being “dated” (or at the very least a period piece).
In addition, the creative team (and director Schwind in particular) have made sure that audiences never forget that Carrie: The Musical is at its heart a human story, a love story, and in Carrie White’s fellow heroine Sue Snell, the story of good attempting to triumph over evil.
The blood and thrills will attract horror lovers to La Mirada, but it is the Cinderella story of a scullery wench dancing with a prince at a ball (sorry, make that an outcast teen dancing with the football quarterback at the prom) that will melt an audience’s hearts.
If I’ve avoided much synopsizing, it’s for obvious reasons. (Is there anyone who’s never read King’s novel, seen De Palma’s film or its 2013 remake, or hasn’t at least heard about Carrie and the havoc she wreaks?)
Suffice it to say that King/De Palma fans won’t be disappointed, and as anyone who’s listened to the 2012 recording can tell you, from its opening number “In” and Act Two Opener “A Night We’ll Never Forget,” to its power-ballad title song, to the heartstoppingly beautiful “Dreamer In Disguise,” “Once You See,” “Unsuspecting Hearts,” and “When There’s No One,” to its show-stopping anthem to bitchery “The World According To Chris,” this is one musical which promises what every musical should deliver, a score you’ll want to hear again and again.
The La Mirada Theatre has found its dream Carrie in Emily Lopez, who not only gives us the heartbreaking, deeply-felt portrait of a troubled teen discovering strengths she never dreamed she had, she sings with gorgeous power pipes and makes us believe in Carrie’s transformation from ugly duckling to exquisite swan.
Kayla Parker is a sublimely lovely Sue, whose innate goodness meets its match in Valerie Rose Curiel’s mean-girl-to-the-max performance as Chris. Both young triple-threats are stars on the rise who can sing, dance, and act in equal measure, words that can describe an eclectically-cast—and absolutely sensational—supporting ensemble who take nothing more than a character’s name and give each one his or her own inner life (Carly Bracco as Tina, Adante Carter as Dale, Kevin Patrick Doherty as Brent, Rachel Farr as Norma, Ian Littleworth as Freddy, Lyle Colby Mackston as Jackie, Chris Meissner as Vic, Teya Patt as Frieda, Amy Segal as Ruth, Michael Starr as George, and Kimberly Ann Steele as Helen), jocks, cheerleaders, Goths, geeks, and everyone in between.
Jon Robert Hall’s tall, built, and handsome Tommy is every high school girl’s (and more than a few boy’s) fantasy prom date, with pop star pipes to match. As Chris’s cohort in crime, Garrett Marshall follows his Scenie-winning Best Lead Actor star turn as Beast in MTW’s Disney’s Beauty And The Beast with a far beastlier dumb jock, demonstrating versatility in spades.
Among the adults, La Mirada has found its couldn’t-be-better Margaret in Misty Cotton, the absolute finest work to date from one of our most wonderfully marvelous leading ladies—a singing-acting triumph that is one of the year’s best. Jenelle Lynn Randall makes for a perfectly wonderful gym teacher (and Carrie champion) Miss Gardner, her duet of “Unsuspecting Hearts” with Lopez proving quite gorgeous indeed. Bryan Dobson (Mr. Stephens and Reverend Bliss) more than holds his own with his talented castmates.
In addition to director Schwind and choreographer Martino’s inestimable contributions, kudos go out to music supervisor Adam Wachter and musical director Brian P. Kennedy, who conducts and plays keyboards in the production’s sensational live band (completed by Mike Abraham, Mike Greenwood, Eric Heinly, John Krovoza, Nate Light, and Justin Smith).
Brian Gale’s dramatic lighting and projection designs, Cricket S. Myer’s thrill-enhancing sound design, and Terry Hanrahan’s ingenious props are pitch perfect each and every one, and never more so in the climactic prom sequence that is arguably the musical’s biggest draw.
Best of all are designer Adriana Lambarri’s splendid array of archetype-defining costumes, with special snaps for Carrie’s journey from fugly to fabulous, with Katie McCoy’s just-right hair and wig design a perfect complement.
Casting of this entirely L.A.-based cast is by Michael Donovan. Christopher Adams-Cohen is assistant director. Buck Mason is general manager.
Heidi Westrom is production stage manager, Jess Manning assistant stage manager, and David Kruse technical director.
Carrie: The Musical is presented by La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman and The Transfer Group. Joe Everett Michaels, Mark Leonard, Douglas Denoff, Lisa Reich, Neal Rubenstein, Jane Lynch, and Mason are associate producers.
No one knows better than Brady Schwind the long and winding road that has led from a germ of an idea to the spectacularly realized, immersive experience that is Carrie: The Musical “On Stage” at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts. Director and each and everyone associated with this electrifying production can be proud indeed of what their patience, persistence, and prodigious talents have wrought.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
March 18, 2015
Photos: Jason Niedle