The Jewell Theatre Company’s (JTC) production of “Carrie: the Musical,” based on Stephen King’s 1974, novel opened Nov. 2 at William Jewell College’s Peters Theater. “Carrie” was adapted for the stage in 1988, had an initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon and was transferred to Broadway for an exorbitant cost in April of the same year. The show closed May 15, 1988 after a pitiful 16 previews and five performances. Called Broadway’s most notorious flop, “Carrie” went down in theater history for its staggeringly short lifetime.
In spite of its shameful status in the mainstream theater realm, it received a relatively successful off-Broadway revival in 2012. The script was majorly revised and songs were added.
For good reason, the JTC’s production used the revival version, which seems to be a far clearer and stronger version of the musical adaptation.
“Carrie” centers around Carrie White, played by Christina Vogler, sophomore music education major. White is an awkward and bullied high school senior with emerging telekinetic powers. She endures constant abuse and manipulation by heartless classmates and her religious fanatic mother Margaret White, played by Alex Rosell, sophomore music performance major. The show follows Carrie to her breaking point, when she uses her newfound telekinetic powers to exact revenge on all who’ve wronged her.
Michael Gore’s evocative and dynamic score draws the audience into the plot. Carrie and her mother’s religiously-driven homelife is characterized with hymn-like instrumentals, while the high school anthems are bouncy and ridiculous, just like the characters who sing them. Though the score lacks the catchy quality I associate with other pieces of musical theatre, it captures the essence of the show well. Dean Pitchford’s lyrics were overall decent with a few notable lines throughout. Lawrence D. Cohen’s book, on the other hand, lacked any real profundity, though this may be attributed to the show’s intention to make the songs the primary vehicle of the show’s more important points.
Vogler’s strong portrayal as the initially meek Carrie authentically reinforced the demure persona her religious upbringing impressed upon her character. More impressive was Vogler’s biting transformation into the rebellious, self-affirming Carrie at the end of the first act. In this scene, Carries uses her telekinetic powers to blast her mother to the ground in order to silence her demands to refuse an invitation to prom. The audience’s uncomfortable chuckles at Vogler’s all too casual indulgence in pie as her character’s mother is sprawled, terrified, in front of her, clearly exemplified the actor’s adept demonstration of an intense and dynamic character transition, a driving point of the show.
Vogler and Rosell had a brilliant dynamic from their first shared scene. When Carrie returns home to tell her mother that she menstruated for the first time, her religious fanatical mother goes into a God-fearing panic, throwing laundry and dragging Carrie across the floor in a chilling musical number titled “And Eve Was Weak.” Vogler’s fearful pleas in response to Rosell’s violent mania were almost too realistic, evoking empathy and discomfort from the audience. Throughout the show, Vogler and Rosell engage in multiple dramatic encounters. The switch in power position from the first act to the second demonstrated the two actors’ versatility and chemistry.
Victoria Smith, first-year chemistry and theater major, delivered an impeccable performance as Sue Snell, the archetypal “good girl” who spends the majority of the show looking for a way to absolve her guilt for taunting Carrie. Smith carried the show. Her frequent appearances as the sole retrospective voice tied the plot together. She delivered the most impressive vocal performance in the show, though vocal talent was not sparse among the leads.
The ensemble had fantastic chemistry, and their energy was palpable. The show’s choreography bounced from playful to horrifying, a sharp contrast the ensemble handled expertly. Their enthusiasm in telling the story allowed the show its heavy impact.
A few minor technical difficulties periodically disrupted the performance, but there were none more than expected considering the scope and first run of the production. The special effects were not completely convincing but were creative and visually pleasing. The set was generally scant and could have used a couple more relevant pieces and props. However, this simplicity in some ways allowed more attention for the cast’s delivery. The crew’s effort in creating the set and effects was evident.
“Carrie” plays three more times: Nov. 3 and 4 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $8 for senior citizens and $12 for general admission. I encourage you attend, but remember one thing: “Once you see, you can’t unsee.”