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“CARRIE: THE MUSICAL” captivates and compels attention at Beck

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

From the heavy beating musical sound at the start, through the exciting powerful opening dance, to the exposition presented in the song, “In,” through the compelling story filled with well designed twists and turns, to the startling conclusion, “CARRIE: THE MUSICAL,” now on stage at Beck Center, captivates the imagination and compels attention.

The musical is based on Steven King’s novel, “CARRIE.” It centers on Carrie White, a shy, misfit teenager who attends Chamberlain High School in a small town in Western Maine. Her mother, a religious fanatic, dominates her life with Bible rules and fear tactics, setting the girl up to be a social misfit.

Bullied and teased by the “in” crowd for her traditional clothing and hairstyle, her lack of knowledge of the ways of sex, and her inability to break through her awkwardness, makes life hell for Carrie. When she discovers she has telekinetic powers, things change.

These powers result in her taking revenge when she is asked to the prom by Tommy Ross, the school’s most popular boy, as a result of a plan concocted by his girl friend Sue, to help Carrie to emerge from her shell. What appears to be a great idea turns bad when Carrie is humiliated at the high school dance and wreaks havoc on everyone. The conclusion is a stunner, which leaves the audience limp.

CARRIE: THE MUSICAL has had a blundering path to the stage. The show opened on Broadway on May 12, 1988 to a mix of cheers and boos during the opening night curtain call, scathing reviews, and, in spite of sold out houses, the investors pulling their money from the show. It closed after only 5 performances, making it one of the most expensive disasters in American theatre history. It earned the “honor” of inspiring the title of Ken Mandelbaum’s book, “NOT SINCE CARRIE: FORTY YEARS OF BROADWAY FLOPS.”

So, why the production at Beck? In 2012 a limited run revival was mounted in the Big Apple. The script and score had been reworked and re-imagined. The purpose was to “rescue CARRIE from oblivion and to give her new life.” As evidence by the Beck production, the rewriting worked.

“CARRIE: THE MUSICAL,” is the type of show that Vickie Bussert, resident director for Great Lakes Theatre and Director of Music Theatre at Baldwin Wallace, does best. It is a script that is edgy, avails itself to her using her very talented and well trained students, and demands creative and inventive staging. It’s the likes of “SPRING AWAKENING,’ for which Bussert won the Cleveland Critics Circles’ Best Director of a Musical in 2012, and such other non-traditional shows as “LIZZY BORDEN: THE ROCK MUSICAL,” “BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,” “GREY GARDENS,” “THE BREAK UP NOTEBOOK: THE LESBIAN MUSICAL and ‘BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL,” which are on her vast resume.

The BW alumni and student cast is outstanding. Petite Caitlin Houlahan is so convincing as the conflicted Carrie, that knowing of the character’s powers, I’d hate to cross her. Houlahan doesn’t portray Carrie, she is Carrie! This is a standing “o” performance.

Sara Masterson is totally convincing as Sue Snell, the haunted witness and tour guide of the story. As she struggles to recount the incidents leading up to the tragic prom night, the audience is compelled to listen attentively to her tale.

Colton Ryan has both the looks and “aw shucks” good boy personality that makes Tommy Ross, Sue’s boyfriend and Carrie’s prom date, believable. He has a nice singing voice. Masterson and Ryan have a real connection which makes their “a couple” performance so acceptable.

Genna-Paige Kanago doesn’t portray nasty girl Chris, she embodies the snarky character. Sam Wolf flexes his muscles, smiles his sly smile and is properly obnoxious as the teenage-male with hopping hormones and no conscience.

Katherine DeBoer is truly scary as Carrie’s religiously obsessed, psychologically scared mother. She makes Bible pounding and fanaticism into an art form.

Musical director Nancy Maier does a great job of having her orchestra support rather than drown out the performers. The ensemble got their own, well-deserved curtain call for their fine in-tune performance.

The dancing was outstanding. Gregory Daniels used gymnastic, modern and contemporary movements to create a whirling dervish of compelling sights.

Russ Borski’s lighting, especially during Carrie’s telekinetic channeling, created the perfect moods. Jordan Janota’s set design used Beck’s limited stage and off-stage space to provide clear locations. The only things missing were the much discussed prom decorations.

Aimee Kluiber’s costume designs were era and attitude correct except for the prom scene. After all the build up about prom dresses and tuxedos, the dance clothing was both disappointing and a disconnect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “CARRIE: THE MUSICAL” sizzles with fine performances, great dancing, well tuned singing, compelling illusions, and an emotionally encompassing attitude which is so relevant in this era of school bullying. This must-see production deserves to result in sold-out houses.

CARRIE: THE MUSICAL is scheduled to run through March 9, 2014 at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org

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