‘Carrie: The Musical’
Through Aug. 4
1501 14th St., N.W.
“Carrie: The Musical” hits a nerve. After years of torment, a high school outcast bashes back with a nasty vengeance. It’s the ultimate school yard cautionary tale.
Like the best selling Stephen King novel and the classic 1976 horror flick on which it’s based, the musical looks at bullying and strives to take it to scary heights. But unlike cases ripped from today’s inuring news cycle, beleaguered Carrie White doesn’t wreak havoc with an automatic assault weapon — she uses special powers to wipe out her tormentors.
A notorious flop when it premiered on Broadway in 1988, “Carrie: The Musical” later succeeded as a reworked 2012 off-Broadway revival. Both adaptations come from the creative team of original screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohn, and lyricist Dean Pitchford and composer Michael Gore. It’s this second version that Studio’s 2ndStage is currently presenting with Emily Zickler as the titular telekinetic teen. Broadway’s talented Barbara Walsh plays Carrie’s fanatically religious single mother Margaret.
The musical is told as flashback. Here, Carrie’s popular classmate Sue Snell’s memory is jogged by unseen detectives. Her face brightly spot lit, a shell-shocked Sue (the likable Maria Rizzo in a subpar wig) ploddingly explains how she unintentionally set off a prom night massacre.
The plot kicks off when Carrie gets her period showering after gym class and has no idea what’s happening to her. Skulking around in her unfashionable baggy sweater and long loose skirt, shy Carrie already makes the perfect victim. The shower episode adds one more arrow to the quiver of insults regularly aimed by the mean girls led by relentless Chris Hargenson (Eben K. Logan) and her dim deputy Norma (Dani Stoller); it also marks Carrie’s discovery of her ability to move things via mind control.
Sue, the story’s conscience, realizes the bullying has gone too far. And young gym teacher Miss Gardner (Jamie Eacker), sympathetic to Carrie’s plight, drives the point home. But it’s too late. On prom night Carrie is subjected to a particularly cruel, and bloody, humiliation. Telekinetic vengeance ensues.
Set in the high school gym and the White’s place (ably designed by Luciana Stecconi), it feels like two different shows. There’s the student body stomping around singing loud numbers reminiscent of the angst ridden kids in “Spring Awakening,” and Margaret and Carrie alone together working out their odd but changing relationship in songs like “And Eve Was Weak” and “When There’s No One.”
Walsh’s portrayal of Carrie’s dowdy, man-hating mother is more self-contained than her celluloid counterpart Piper Laurie’s over-the-top messianic turn as Margaret. Similar to the original film, warnings of “They’re going to laugh at you” echo throughout the White’s modest home. Sadly, my favorite mother/daughter pre-prom exchange with regard to Carrie’s uncharacteristically low cut party dress didn’t make the cut. (Margaret: “I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.” Carrie: “Breasts, Mama. They’re called breasts and every woman has them.”)
While the score is uneven and the book thin, the non-Equity production’s cast (co-directed by Keith Alan Baker and Jacob Janssen) is good. But the show’s telekinetic effects are a little cheesy and the Grand Guignol climax is more messy than horrific. What works on the big screen doesn’t always make for great musical theater.