The musical incarnation of Stephen King’s “Carrie” is a legendary part of Broadway lore. The ill-fated show had a few weeks of preview performances and lasted less than a week after its official opening a quarter of a century ago. Few saw it, but the story is that the story was not treated as satire or camp, but instead was turned toward realism, where teenagers sang a song about killing a pig to get the blood to dump on the title character at her prom.
After sinking into oblivion, the musical was reworked and is making its regional premiere on stage at the Beck Center. Let’s talk about the content of the show first. Gone are the songs, which were more than eccentric, and over-the-top.
Instead, what we have is the story of a girl who is bullied because she is “different.” Carrie White – her classmates call her “Scary Carrie” – is shy and retiring, the product of a mother whose fundamental Christianity has gone off the deep end. Carrie is kept not only in the dark about men, but also about her own female self. She panics after gym class when she experiences her first period. Fearful she’s been injured, she becomes hysterical when her classmates pelt her with tampons. A young woman with desires, Carrie is attracted to Tommy, a high schooler who, acting quite unlike his classmates, agrees to take her to the prom.
At the Beck Center, “Carrie: The Musical” is directed by Victoria Bussert, who brings with her the forces of the Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program. Bussert points the production toward the idea that this is the story of a girl who is bullied. Not far from high school themselves, the young cast are exuberant, especially in the energetic choreography of Gregory Daniels. The opening number, “In,” is a blockbuster, and that’s just the first five minutes. Caitlin Houlahan as Carrie and Katherine DeBoer as her mother share some of the show’s best moments of tenderness, and the relationship is even more complex than the movie version that was so popular. Their duets, “And Eve Was Weak” and “”Carrie,” are some of the show’s best emotional moments. Colton Ryan as beau Tommy somehow makes us believe in his behavior, although it goes against what most high school students would do in similar circumstances.
Jodi Dominick as gym teacher Miss Gardner (the girls say she’s a lesbian) and Ian Hill as Mr. Stephens are disconcertingly young in their roles as the teachers, but also manage most of the show’s humor. The rest of the ensemble, teenagers all, give the production energy with their high school antics. Their voices, under the musical direction of Nancy Maier, are full-bodied.
In this version of “Carrie” it is almost incidental, although it exemplifies Stephen Kings’ supernatural style, that bullied Carrie also has telekinetic powers. There are no elaborate special effects showing this, unlike the movie. Instead, focus on the Beck stage is on the core story, and that is the strength of the musical. “Carrie: The Musical” runs through March 9 on the Beck Center’s main stage. It’s a show that you probably won’t see anywhere else.