Review: The Street Theatre Company's Carrie: The Musical

For horror fans, Carrie is an iconic book, and the 1976 film version has become a cult classic. As a kid, I empathized with Carrie: I was different, I was a strange kid who was isolated and bullied, and I envied her empowerment and subsequent ability to make her tormentors pay. This may be one of the major reasons why the story has resonated with generations of LGBT horror fans. For such fans, Carrie: The Musical should prove simply too fascinating to pass up. But this show has a rocky history-rocky enough to make one worry whether the folks at the Street Theatre Company might not be headed for their own prom-scene meltdown.

The original script was written by Lawrence Cohen, who wrote the script for the classic 1976 movie. Despite constant work to address concerns, however, when the show debuted on Broadway in 1988, it became the most expensive flop Broadway had seen. The current iteration of the show, heavily adapted, took about two years to bring to stage, and audiences have been intrigued since it opened off-Broadway in 2012.

Street has made the bold decision to bring the show to Nashville, and the results are hard to adequately describe. The Street Theatre Company’s small stage isn’t ideal for such a big show. The graffitied, inner city warehouse district chic walls at first make one doubt whether this can be pulled off at all. Never mind the question of whether a company with the resources of Street's could pull off the effects required to sell Carrie as a telekinetic superpower.

Through clever uses of lighting and old fashioned stage effects, the Street Theatre Company effectively mitigates many of these challenges. The simple set proves surprisingly rich. Carrie's early shows of power are accomplished with simple but believable effects: levitation and movements of objects are displayed seamlessly. The big scene, simulating mass electrocutions and the fire, doesn't quite live up to our hopes but perhaps exceeds expectations, thanks to lighting and choreographic magic. For those hoping to need a poncho, as at a Gallagher show, however, the blood scene is underwhelming.

The acting is mixed. Alie Gorrie's Carrie is quirky and strange, and her singing is timid. One very early solo is belted out so confidently that one believes this is well acted singing. However, empowered Carrie never fully retrieves this power, and the quirkiness does not recede as Carrie grows. Claire Kapustka's Sue, however, is much more consistent, and due to the story-line she actually feels like the main character. Chris Lee as Tommy Ross absolutely steals the show, despite an unsatisfying change in his character's story. When this young actor sings, "I'm a diamond in the rough, a dreamer in disguise," it seems appropriate to both Tommy and Chris.

Some issues are out of Street’s control. First are story changes which some may consider minor. In the film's classic prom scene, it is made clear that the catastrophe arises not simply from Carrie's embarrassment, but also from the fatal injury Tommy Ross suffers when the bucket strikes his head. The musical’s scene renders Tommy insincere and Carrie less sympathetic. Likewise, the frame of the story, Susan's interrogation, helps solve the problem of accomplishing the final scene of the movie (by eliminating it), but the strange, nearly inexplicable scene that closes the musical raises more problems than it solves.

Second, some of the songs, such as "In," may give the show the feeling of an afterschool special on high school life. This could feel hokey, but my experience was different. In place of a vague, childlike sense of fellow feeling for Carrie, something far more personal and immediate was drawn upon. The musical's focus is different, and it can read as a direct commentary on the LGBT experience.

When the boys sing, "God it's rough being tough" and "have a plan, be a man," it is hard not to hear resonances of the classical masculinities that are forced on young gay men. And what LGBT person has never felt like, "Some day, if I don't stand out one bit, I might be normal enough to fit in"? This sense of relevance to the LGBT experience is reinforced when "The World According to Chris" explains to us that it's "better to strike than to get struck." Billy, played so aptly by Kyle O'Connor, brings this home with his short and suggestive lines about the "good looking queer with a wandering eye."

While Carrie's mother Margaret was always a religious fanatic, in the musical this is elevated to a new level. The effectiveness (creepiness) of this character is due in no small part to actress Carol Quinn's phenomenal channeling of religious fervor and intolerance. From very early in the musical, the uninitiated could see where this train will wreck as Quinn's Margaret sings of the fall of woman and the curse of blood.

It's certainly not intentional but the creepiest scene in the show as produced by Street isn't Carrie's murder of an entire school. Rather, it is that moment after Carrie's coming out when Margaret sings "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The LGBT theatre-goer should feel this intimately. Yes we know that Margaret will kill her daughter, but to hear her compare herself to Abraham sacrificing Isaac ratchets this up to a new emotional level. It's perhaps most telling and most chilling to hear, "who will hold me when there's no one to hold me," and to know that her only qualm arises from the loneliness that must come to her from the radical rejection of her child. How many parents who made their children homeless thought only, “I’ll miss you, but...”?

Overall, Street's production of Carrie: The Musical is well done, and what it lacks in splashy effects (pun intended) it makes up for in emotional impact. While this Carrie would be more likable if her outburst were motivated more by loss and less by ego, and perhaps if she shot lightning from her fingers, this musical delivers a Carrie that resonates even better with the experiences and anxieties of LGBT life, and indeed with those of any who experienced bullying from any of it's angles.


Carrie: The Musical closes on October 12, 2014. For more information, and to get tickets, visit http://www.streettheatrecompany.org/.

Photo courtesy of Joe Eats World

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