Monday, April 6, 2015

Coming of Age

Stephen King’s “Carrie” is a coming of age story, complete with growing pains, lessons learned and exceptionally horrific melodrama.  It’s interesting and sweetly fitting that the musical “Carrie” has had its own coming of age story.

The first production of the musical “Carrie” was a bona fide mess.  The book and score weren’t half bad, mind you, but RSC director Terry Hands made such surreal and expressionistic artistic choices that the show became a stark, non-cohesive mish-mash; what was good was often clouded and confusing and what was weak was amplified to the point of incredulity.   As a result, despite a stellar cast, the show was a thunderous flop and Michael Gore (score) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics) removed it from the public, allowing no other professional productions…for over twenty years. 

Fortunately, for those of us who knew there was a genuinely moving musical lost amidst Hand’s preposterous smoke and laser beam show, Gore and Pitchford re-worked the entire opus, learning from what must have been as horrifying an experience as the titular character’s first period in the high school gym showers.  With great tenacity, faith, and judicial editing, they kept the good stuff, rewrote the weaker sections and the result is a show that is clear and a score that is solid; one they have unleashed at last for productions be mounted.

The La Mirada Theatre grabbed that chance and, thankfully, director Brady Schwind is not only up to the challenge, he makes one wish he’d been around twenty years ago.  Everything the RSC version got wrong, Schwind and his team get right:  not only does the score pop, soar and haunt, but Schwind’s staging makes that energy manifest in fitting choreography (via Lee Martino), effective lighting (Brian Gale) and some spectacularly clever, but appropriate, stage effects (Jim Steinmeyer and Paul Rubin).  The orchestra makes the score sound glorious as does the very able cast, led by waif-like lovey Emily Lopez as Carrie and a fiery Misty Cotton as her codependent, crazy mother.  The themes of bullying, poor parenting and religion gone wrong have only become more prescient in today’s world and so, rather than feel dated, the show proves very much a cautionary tale for today. 

In short, the musical “Carrie”, much misaligned in her early years, has at last come of age.  And it’s about bloody time.