CARRIE THE MUSICAL

Director Nick DeGruccio amps up the horror movie thrills at UCLA as two-dozen of the most talented musical theater up-and-comers in town give Carrie The Musical as exciting a big-stage production as any scary-musical buff could possibly wish for.

 Based on a 1974 Stephen King novel turned into a Brian De Palma/Sissy Spacek movie smash two years later, Carrie The Musical gives telekinesis a human face in Carrie White, a bullied teen with a religious fanatic single mother and an impossible crush on the cutest boy in school.

Fireworks erupt, and not just of the romantic kind.

Carrie’s 1988 Broadway musical adaptation may have flopped big, but as several recent SoCal productions have made abundantly clear, there are ample reasons to revive this chill-filled gem, not the least of which are composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford’s infectious, plot-propelling songs.

 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 won’t be able to get out of your head.

 Book writer Lawrence D. Cohen updates the action to the Facebook-Instagram present, ubiquitous cell phones making Carrie’s humiliation at her classmates’ hands more publicly devastating than it was thirty or forty years ago, while at UCLA, director DeGruccio’s horror movie homework guarantees shrieks and gasps that would do De Palma proud, a Grand Guignol-worthy prom, and a grand finale you’ll be dying to talk about but will be damned if you do.

Carrie The Musical is far more than gore, however, and DeGruccio never lets us forget that these are real teens with the real problems, from jocks with masculinity to prove to cheerleaders whose cruelty is just one way to dull their inner pain, all of the above brought to life by a cast of late-teens and very-early 20somethings with bright futures ahead.

  Prom dates don’t come any dreamier than Jake Levy’s Tommy, girlfriends any lovelier than Ali Whitney’s Sue, bad boys any more Satanic than Rodd Farhadi’s Billy, nor mean girls any more vicious than Gillian Bozajian’s Chris, all four Bruin stars delivering the singing-acting goods and then some.

 Kelly Baker as Queen Bitch Norma and Michael Deni as a not-so-secretly-crushing-on-Tommy George lend terrific support as do Danielle Koenig (Frieda), Spencer Martin (Freddy), Shelby Talley (Helen), and Michael Wells (Stokes), with Scott Senior filling in adult roles as both Mr. Stephens and Reverend Bliss and Olivia London giving gym teacher Miss Gardner a just-right mix of toughness and warmth and a simply gorgeous “Unsuspecting Hearts.”

As Carrie’s religious fanatic of a mother, Alana DeBlase’s Margaret may be half the age she’d be in a professional production, but just wait till you hear her stun the audience with gut-wrenching renditions of “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance” and “When There’s No One.”

 Ensemble members Nicole Athill, Justin Baker, Shelby Barry, Kyle Frattini, Haleyann Hart, Flynn Hayward, Grant Hodges, Ty Koeller, Katie Powers-Fault, Max Risch, Carson Robinete, and Autumn Sylve ace choreographer Lee Martino’s imaginative, athletic, high-energy dance numbers as they do their vocal harmonies to Jeremy Mann’s expert vocal musical direction.

 Ultimately, though, there could be no Carrie The Musical without precisely the right star, and Erin Dubreuil is that star, combining ethereal loveliness, aching vulnerability, and pipes that reach the rafters.

Among DeGruccio’s directorial inspirations is a shower visual that would do any slasher-flick poster proud, a moment at the end of “The World According To Chris” that reveals just how much pain lies hiding inside a high school byotch, and an eleventh-hour stage-directions tweak that adds poignancy to the havoc about to come by making a certain someone the inadvertent victim of a cruel prank gone too far rather than of Carrie’s wrath.

 Dan Corrigan’s dramatic lighting design and Katie Jost and Austin Taylor’s shock-inducing sound design play a huge part in making Carrie The Musical the thrill ride that it is, the latter duo earning bonus points for their pitch-perfect mix of vocals and musical director/conductor Dan Belzer’s seven-piece band*.

Scenic designer Sydnie Ponic’s gym set not only proves ideal for both P.E. and prom but morphs into multiple other locales, Lauren Cucarola’s costumes suit each character to a T, and Ed Monaghan’s fight choreography adds to the excitement.

Brynna Mason is stage manager. Sam Sherry is assistant director. Frattini and Talley are choral captains. Baker and Frattini are dance captains.

UCLA’s Little Theater proves the ideal up-close-and-devastating setting for a sensational Carrie The Musical. Unfortunately, fewer seats mean that only those smart enough to have reserved in advance will get to see one of Carrie’s remaining sold-out performances. Never have the words “If you snooze, you lose” been more apt. Snoozers, you’re missing one hell of a show!

*Christopher Ahn, Richard Berent, Lenny Coltun, Mike Farrell, Ken Lasaine, Barry Saperstein, and Jeff Takiguchi

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Little Theater, Macgowan Hall, UCLA.
www.tft.ucla.edu

–Steven Stanley
June 6, 2017
Photos: Samantha Vinzon

 

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