There is something inherently disconcerting about going to see a theatrical restaging of the 1976 film Carrie, and finding out the theatre it’s presented in is a rustic barn. Seemingly bucolic, the seclusion, the intimacy, and the—not to spoil the film’s explosive finale—flammability of a quiet country barn seems all too creakingly eerie to keep someone at ease. But whether intentional or not, the setting of the Split Stage Production’s Carrie: The Musical only serves to augment the deliciously unsettling air that hangs over the dramaturgy.
The musical first crossed my radar as some bizarre campy revenant that seemed to coincide with the absolutely cataclysmic 2013 remake of the original film—when in actuality, the musical adaption was written in 1981 by Michael Gore (who, fantastically, is best known for writing “Fame”), and had enjoyed a storied history and series of revivals. Much like the Heathers musical adaptation, I had been abundantly keen to witness how the monstrosities and divine cruelty of one of the most notorious films of cinema’s glory days translated into dramaturgy—especially song-and-dance centric dramaturgy. I entered the renovated barn with no expectations, only petrified, giddy excitement (perhaps, like a girl realizing she was developing her “dirty pillows”), and was immediately, and blissfully confronted with something so fantastically and flamboyantly irreverent that I found myself floored.
Carrie: The Musical only slightly plays with the plot of the original Stephen King narrative to present the equal parts tragic and outlandish story of Carrie White, an unfortunately mousey high school senior whose devoutly ecclesiastical mother and scathingly ruthless classmates make her life an agonizing hell, only to find that Carrie possesses a potent telepathy that proves to be the downfall of them all. The musical is predominantly told from the perspective of mournful and remorseful Sue Snell as she reminisces on the trials and tribulations of senior year of high school, and the disturbingly preternatural occurrences surrounding the mental disintegration of Carrie White—with unsettling, yet heartfelt, side vignettes depicting the condemningly Christian home life of the Carrie and her mother. Carrie’s opening number, a rousingly punchy song called “In,” brilliantly showcases not only the talents of the tremendously gifted cast, but sets the tone for the alternate take on King’s high school narrative. The musical establishes, irrefutably, the callousness of the jocks and prototypical popular kids, but, more intriguingly, demonstrates the savage, craven need to fit in and the various motivations in the high schoolers’ behavior. This humanizing of the kids, especially Carrie (Lindsay Pingor Fitzpatrick)—most poignantly in songs like “Carrie,” (a sorrowfully enraged plea for people to just say her damn name) and “Unsuspecting Hearts”—and the malevolent couple, Chris (a marvelously snarling Brittany Tague) and Billy (Josh Reardon), gives the production a certain dimensionality and complexity that the caricature-heavy film lacked.
Musically, both voice and band performances, the show is nearly perfect. Musical director Dave Minda exquisitely executes an oscillation between bombast (numbers like “In” and “A Night We’ll Never Forget”) and delicate tenderness (“Why Not Me”) in a way that imbues the musical with the proper bevy of emotions that captures the high school/telekinetic powers experience (or so I assume, for the latter). Fitzpatrick is illuminating and ferocious as the sensitive yet demented Carrie, and her culminating performance to the final, incendiary moments is devastating. Masterfully capturing the religious fervor with astronomical vocal talent, Meighan Lloyd embodies the ferocity of Carrie’s mother in a way that allows for a fuller understanding of Carrie’s demise. The high school hooligans are all outrageous and phenomenal in their individual portrayals and group cohesion, and director Laura Wurzell’s commitment to a magnificently orchestrated piece is unquestionable. A special acknowledgment should be given as well to Rob Jessup and Nate Newell, and their unremitting dedication to Split Stage productions and producing shows with a quality irreverence and delectable salaciousness for the goal of proliferating amazing talents and aberrant fun. Carrie deserves attendance and rapt attention—because we all know what happens when Carrie grows unhappy.
Special thanks to Split Stage Productions for complimentary press tickets. Carrie: The Musical runs at the Apple Hill Playhouse through October 29th. Tickets and more information can be found here.