An Anemic Production of Carrie: The Musical
The good news is that Carrie: The Musical, based on the not-so-successful 2012 revival of the infamous 1988 Broadway megaflop, isn't nearly as awful as you might expect. The bad news is that this wobbly coproduction by Balagan Theatre and Seattle Theatre Group doesn't do the uneven material—or us—any favors.
You all know the story based on the Stephen King thriller, so there's no need for a spoiler alert: Carrie, the mousy daughter of an abusive and religiously fanatical single mother, is bullied at high school, resulting in the popular girls being disciplined by their well-meaning gym teacher. One girl seeks to atone for her misbehavior by asking her boyfriend to escort Carrie to the prom, while another girl plots a humiliating revenge by rigging the vote for prom king and queen so she can dump a bucket of pig's blood on the unsuspecting Carrie's head. But little do they know that Carrie is developing dangerous psychokinetic powers that ultimately lead to the spectacular mass murder of nearly the entire cast.
It's a familiar, now-campy premise that almost begs for self-parody, but in its more contemplative moments, Michael Gore's score actually proves quite beautiful, even moving. Carrie is by far at its best when left in the hands of its two costars: Tony Award–winner Alice Ripley as Carrie's mother, and the young and talented Keaton Whittaker, already a Broadway veteran in her own right (A Little Night Music), in the title role. Their solos and duets provide the most interesting and touching musical moments, with Ripley's soaring operatic soprano playing counterpoint to Whittaker's powerful Broadway belting. Indeed, Ripley and Whittaker's act one duet, "Evening Prayers," is as fine a musical-theater performance as I've seen on a Seattle stage—almost fine enough to make you forget the Moore's incredibly crappy acoustics.
As lovely as the restoration of the Moore's interior may be, they've apparently done nothing to address the acoustic issues that made last year's Balagan production of Hedwig virtually unintelligible. Through the Moore's sound system, chorus numbers amazingly come out both too muted and too loud, the words and the harmonies lost in a mysterious sound-dampening muddle. Kendra Kassebaum (the gym teacher), a Broadway veteran fresh off a standout supporting role in the 5th Avenue's otherwise so-so premiere of Secondhand Lions, manages to blast through this sound barrier in her only number, the pop ballad "Unsuspecting Hearts," but the rest of the cast proves less capable, which wasn't helped by dozens of blown sound cues on opening night. (The program doesn't list a sound designer, which could be part of the problem.)
In a small rehearsal room with just a piano and no mics, this ensemble might really kick ass. But on the sound-deadening stage of the Moore, not so much.
The rest of the production is unremarkable. There's not much choreography—it's just not that type of a show—and Tom Sturge's frugal design relies heavily on lighting. As for the special effects, if you're wondering how this low-budget production manages to portray Carrie's telekinetic carnage, the answer is: It doesn't. Carrie's growing awareness of her special powers is so understated as to be nearly imperceptible, and the climactic finale is anything but, with victims simply dropping dead at an angry wave from Carrie's bloodstained hands.
But, of course, nothing short of the Moore going up in flames could match the emotional pitch the story line promises. That is a dramatic problem no production of Carrie has ever managed to solve.