Monday, October 26, 2015

Carrie, the Musical—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

Diamond in the Rough

This musical of the horror thriller Carrie by Stephen King, has music and lyrics by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford and story by Lawrence D. Cohen.  It is directed and choreographed by Kirk Mouser (Stumptown’s Artistic Director) and musical direction by Jon Quesenberry.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway (upstairs of the Newmark and Winningstad theatres) through November 8th.  For more information, go to their site at

Carrie was a career-changing event in the lives of many people.  The novel by King was his first great success.  The movie by Brian DePalma was his first important film.  And for most of the actors in it, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, John Travota, Willam Katt, P.J. Soles and Sissy Spacek, was a first or early film of theirs.  Also it revived the career of Piper Laurie and had Broadway actress, Betty Buckley, as the gym teacher (who went on to play the mother in the musical of this story).

The musical had some of the same writing team of the original film but managed to flop as a musical on Broadway.  Rumor has it that it has been revamped and updated and will again grace the stages, as it has here.  The book was very episodic and told as a flashback of some of the survivors.  The movie discarded that approach and chose to present it in a linear fashion.  Now the musical has inserted some of the flashback aspects back in, with Sue as a type of narrator.

This is not just an old-fashioned thriller.  Consider, especially, current events, with the school shootings and the bullying that seems to be on the increase amongst teens.  Carrie (Malia Davis) is just such a recipient of such treatment, being that she doesn’t dress like the rest of the girls, is awkward in her social skills and is just an all-around misfit.  Most of the reason for this is that her mother, Margaret (Susan Jonsson) is a religious fanatic and won’t allow her daughter to wear make-up, have boyfriends and keep up with current trends among teens.

Some of the students at school, especially the snobbish, Chris (Carrie Morgan) and the creepy, Billy (Evan Tait) taunt her unmercifully.  Carrie does have some allies as well, including Sue (Amber Mitchell), the peace-maker and her boyfriend, the amiable, Tommy (Jake Daley), as well as the understanding gym teacher, Lynn (Kelley Marchant).  Of course Carrie does have one secret asset to combat any barbs thrown her way, a type of kinetic energy in which she can control the elements and make them do her bidding.  So, woe to those who cross her, as they will have Hell to pay…quite literally!

Revealing the outcome of the story might invite Carrie’s wrath upon me, so I will only say that most of them get their just rewards with, unfortunately, some collateral damage and one character who will be haunted forever as, what you’ve seen, you cannot unsee.  The setting (Demetri Pavlatos) is stark but gives lots of room for the actors to emote, allowing the lighting (Liz Carlson) and sound (Dave Cole) to relay much of the mood and scene changes, which they do well.  Mouser does an outstanding job of staging such a complicated story in such a confined space and he has chosen his cast well.  And Quesenberry, always good, allows the musical to project full force without overpowering the actors, no easy task.

The musical style is more operatic, singing spoken dialogue, than the traditional musical style, which might account for its failure on Broadway.  The songs do express the angst and frustrations of being a teen in this modern age but no songs are especially memorable.  The most effective numbers are “Carrie” and “Why Not Me?,” mainly for the power of Davis and her voice.  Her vocal range is amazing and I would guess had to hold back a bit, as her musical talent goes far beyond these songs, I suspect.  Hope to see more of her onstage.  And her duet with the gym teacher is especially moving, with Marchant adding lovely support.  Mitchell and Daley also have their moments in their duet with “You Shine,” especially the last moment with Mitchell.

This is a powerful ensemble and every one of them should be applauded for their efforts.  I do recommend this show.  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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