Speakeasy Stage’s production of the reworked (Gore/Pitchford/Cohen) musical, CARRIE (playing through June 7th) isn’t the infamous, over-the-top, l988 version everyone claims to have seen. This iteration jettisoned 7 or 8 songs, boasts a new second act and sells itself as a cautionary tale about bullying.
Having taught high school, I know how cruel students can be to one another but poor Carrie bears a double burden: The kids make fun of her in class and her religiously obsessed mother abuses her at home to keep her “pure.”
Director Paul Melone has a solid cast to work with but the earnestness of the piece has the curious effect of undercutting the story—and because we all know the ending, there goes the suspense. At the close of Act I, when Kerry A. Dowling as the mother backs wide eyed into a corner, imagining what terrible things could happen to her daughter (“I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance”), we get a taste for that Joan Crawford/ “Mommie Dearest,” permission-to-laugh camp. But no, Act II is as serious as Act I.
The first lively production number (“In”) reminded me of SPRING AWAKENING (and Larry Sousa’s choreography for the cocky high school kids reflects their anarchic, “Chew my Ass” attitude). Later I thought I heard the telltale chords of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR when Carrie wreaks her Old Testament fire and brimstone revenge on the lot. In between, though, it just seemed to lumber along. The telekinetic special effects are nifty and Nicholas James Connell’s smart music direction means fine singing all around.
Elizabeth Erardi certainly conveys Carrie’s naïve helplessness but Dowling dominates the stage as the crazy mother. She does elicit our (short held) sympathy, believe it or not, in her desperate “When There’s No One.” Sarah Drake makes Carrie’s kind friend believable, as does Joe Longthorne as her beau.
The bad guys are portrayed with relish by Paige Berkovitz and Phil Tayler. Kudos to Tayler for making deadly lyrics like “I know what you think. If I was your daddy, I’d buy you a drink” seem sincere. Shonna Cirone gives the concerned gym teacher a good heart, despite her dubious advice about attracting men with make-up. I didn’t see the original version, mind you, but I, for one, would have welcomed a little camp.