CARRIE The Killer Musical Experience

You don’t have to travel to NYC to see CARRIE The Killer Musical Experience on Broadway, not now that director Brady Schwind’s multiple Scenie-winning*, thrillingly audience-immersive Carrie has reopened at the historic Los Angeles Theater at 615 S. Broadway … smack dab in the middle of DTLA.

Though Carrie The Musical’s 1988 Broadway debut opened and closed in rapid succession and a 2012 off-Broadway revival didn’t last all that much longer, it was third time lucky this past March at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts in a production so universally acclaimed that its producers took the unprecedented step of not only moving the show to a more centrally located venue but majorly reconfiguring one of L.A.’s most gorgeous Golden Era Movie Palaces to give Carrie the kind of buzz-generating new home she deserves.

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-3313-v2 How reconfigured is majorly reconfigured? Well, how about removing 750 or so seats, extending the playing area well beyond the proscenium arch, designing photo-op-ready lower level rooms to add to the magic, and upping seating capacity, in addition to upgrading production design and featuring bigger/better special effects, most notably in a thrill-ride ready prom scene that is even more exciting than before!

But first a bit of Carrie history to set the scene for her 2015 triumphant return.

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.

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-2695-v2 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.

Still, it took director Brady Schwind to re-imagine Carrie as it had never been performed before, seating “E-Ticket” audience members on a quartet of movable platforms that constantly reconfigure the show’s playing area in addition to providing audience members seated in these zones with ever-changing perspectives as Carrie’s story unfolds.

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-1607 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 (or CARRIE The Killer Musical Experience as it is now being called) 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 the Los Angeles Theater, centrally located in the middle of L.A.’s ever more trendy Historic Downtown, 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.

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-0840-v2 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.

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-0734-v2 95% of Carrie’s La Mirada cast returns for its DTLA run, including the musical’s titular leading lady, the extraordinary 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, Jennifer Foster as Frieda, Ian Littleworth as Freddy, Lyle Colby Mackston as Jackie, Chris Meissner as Vic, 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.

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-1242-v2 Among the adults, Carrie has found her couldn’t-be-better mother in Misty Cotton’s Margaret, 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.

Tiana Okoye stars as Carrie at Sunday matinees. Victoria Strong is Margaret at certain performances. Jonah Ho’okano, Okoye, and dance captain Jane Papageorge are swings.

In addition to director Schwind and choreographer Martino’s inestimable contributions, kudos go out to musical director Brian P. Kennedy, who conducts and plays keyboards in the production’s sensational live band (completed by John Krovoza, Carlos Rivera, Ken Rosser, associate conductor Brett Ryback, Justin Smith, and Jamey Tate).

Carrie-LosAngelesTheater-2121-v2 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. Jeremy Duvall is associate choreographer. Additional much-deserved credits are shared by Buck Mason (production supervisor), Lora K. Powell (production stage manager), John “JP” Pollard (assistant stage manager), Meredyth Mindte (technical director), and Niyia Mack (company manager).

Carrie: The Musical is presented by Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, The Transfer Group, Michael T. Cohen/Robin Reinach, Kraige Block, and Joe Everett Michaels in association with La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts. Amy and Ralph Cetrulo are associate producers. Sunnyspot Productions is executive producer.

It’s been a good long while since a major musical production has “sat down” in a Los Angeles theater for an extended run, far too long if you ask me, and if there’s any justice in the theater world, CARRIE The Killer Musical Experience will follow in the footsteps of such long-running sit-down L.A. productions as Wicked, The Lion King, and The Phantom Of The Opera.

That it is an entirely homegrown production is even more reason to wish for CARRIE The Killer Musical Experience the megasmash status it so richly deserves.

And New Yorkers, make your plane reservations right away. A trip to L.A.’s Broadway is most definitely in order.

*Carrie: The Musical won 2014-2015 StageSceneLA SCENIES in the following categories: The Year’s Top 8 Productions, Musical; Featured Performance Of The Year In A Musical (Misty Cotton); Ensemble Cast Lead Performance—Musical, Larger Theater (Misty Cotton, Valerie Rose Curiel, Bryan Dobson, Jon Robert Hall, Emily Lopez, Garrett Marshall, Kayla Parker, & Jenelle Lynn Randall); Ensemble Cast Featured Performance—Musical, Larger Theater (Carly Bracco, Adante Carter, Kevin Patrick Doherty, Rachel Farr, Ian Littleworth, Lyle Colby Mackston, Chris Meissner, Teya Patt, Amy Segal, Michael Starr, & Kimberly Ann Steele); Star-Making Performance In A Musical (Kayla Parker); Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role—Musical, Larger Theater (Emily Lopez); Direction Of A Musical, Larger Theater (Brady Schwind); Choreography (Lee Martino); Flight Choreography (Paul Rubin); Musical Direction (Brian P. Kennedy); and Production Design.

Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, Los Angeles.

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–Steven Stanley
October 8, 2105
Photos: Jason Niedle


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