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Beck Center’s ‘Carrie – The Musical’ is great theater with a message

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Carrie - the musical

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The Beck Center for the Arts production of “Carrie – The Musical” has reset the bar in regards to locally produced professional theatrical performances. All the key factors that are needed fit seamlessly together. To begin with you have an exceptional cast of young student and alumni performers from Baldwin-Wallace University under the direction of Vickie Bussert (resident director for Great Lakes Theatre and Director of Music Theatre at Baldwin Wallace).

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All of the characters come to life with believability. By the end of the show you are rooting for the good guys and booing the baddies (when Carrie’s mother finally bites the dust I had to restrain myself from standing up and cheering). The set has the eerie industrial look of a standard high school gym with the steel reinforced double doors with security bars. There is a high walkway above the stage that is used as an ensemble chorus area and as the practical joke gone horribly wrong staging area late in the production. Even the basketball free throw floor is authentic. One of the more impressive props is the church size crucifix that hangs over the living room of the White home. You get the impression that religion is more than just a passing fad with Margaret White.

The special effects dazzle you with their depth and richness. The star scene (during the song “You Shine”) envelopes not only the stage but the entire audience area adding a bit of magic to the number. The early manifestations of Carrie’s telekinetic powers where she levitates a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue and later moves two chairs is done without the sight of wires. The lighting provides the proper mood throughout especially during the “destruction scene” where all heck breaks out. The sound is properly modulated and each cast member is clearly heard and understood. The six member orchestra provides a great backdrop of music while flawlessly accompanying the singers. The choreography is spirited and lively with perfect synchronization that can only come from much rehearsal and practice.

In short, “Carrie – The Musical” will scare the begeezers out of you and this is a good thing. Over the past few years there has been a campaign to attempt to eradicate all forms of bullying in schools including verbal, physical and cyber. This show focuses on the consequences of what happens when a “practical joke” goes too far and the bullied person fights back.

“Carrie – The Musical” was very nearly the show that never was. In 1988 it reached the stage after numerous rewrites in Stratford-upon-Avon, England where it had a four week run to mixed reviews where it was plagued with script and technical difficulties that included Carrie’s microphone malfunctioning when drenched in blood and a performer nearly being killed on stage.

In spite of the problems, the producers went ahead with the Broadway debut at the cost of $8 million. The audience alternately cheered and booed during the curtain call and the financial backers pulled out after only five performances due to the scathing reviews in spite of the fact that the theater has been sold out each night. This earned “Carrie – The Musical” the title of one of the most expensive all time Broadway disasters.

In 2009 the production team tried again, reworking the show by subtracting and/or reworking songs and script. The result was a Broadway run of 46 shows in 2012 that proved quite successful. This revised work is the one that is being staged by the Beck Center.

Carrie is a misfit at her high school. She has been raised by a single mother (Margaret White) who was abandoned by Carrie’s father and is a religious fanatic who feels that the entire world is sinful and all men are evil. Margaret dresses Carrie in plain ultra-conservative garb (plain brown blouse and long skirt) and hair style that sets her apart from the other students. She is a God fearing Bible reading misfit who wants to fit in but is handcuffed by her upbringing of constant religious lectures.

The path to destruction begins when Carrie has her first period at seventeen which scares and baffles her until the gym teacher (Miss Gardner) steps in to stop the mocking of the other girls and to explain the facts of life to the clueless girl. Miss Gardner later tries to open Carrie up to the possibility of dating in high school.

Sue Snell (who spends the show being debriefed as a witness to the mayhem) tries to befriend Carrie and even talks her boyfriend into taking Carrie to the prom instead of her. In the meantime, Carrie finds that she has telekinetic powers that she uses to intimidate her mother in order to get permission to go to the dance.

Chris Hargensen who has been banned from the prom for teasing Carrie and not apologizing and her not too bright boyfriend set up an elaborate prank to have Carrie elected prom queen and while at her height of glory douse her with a bucket of pig’s blood. At the prom, Carrie is doused in blood and the rest is history.

The only problems that I had with the show were with the costuming for the students attending the prom and the length of the second act. Throughout the show the costuming is authentic but then the students (except for the principal players of Carrie, Tommy and Miss Gardner) show up in clownish versions of prom wear. It is almost as if they raided a circus tent on the way to the gym. I also felt that the second act could have done without a song or two. (Margaret’s “When There’s No One” and “Alma Mater”). But these are minor complaints.

As for the principal roles, Caitlin Houlahan is Carrie White. She underplays the demure confused side quite well and you see the transformation when she begins to realize her powers. Katherine DeBoer* as Margaret White is the woman you love to hate. She is the catalyst for all the horror that is to come. Sara Masterson as Sue Snell is wonderful as the popular girl with the great boyfriend who is torn between following the crowd and doing the right thing.

Colton Ryan brings his natural good looks to the part of Tommy Ross as he tries to set a good example for the rest of the in crowd. Genna-Paige Kanago as Chris Hargensen is the relentless source of torment that Carrie has to suffer through. Her ultimate prank releases the death and destruction that envelopes the entire school and town. Sam Wolf as Billy Nolan as Chris’ scholastically challenged boy friend plays the role with a sneer and flex of the pecks. Jodi Dominick as Miss Gardner is the referee trying to keep the entire social order under control but without success.

*Actor appears courtesy of the American Equity Association (AEA), the union of actors and stage managers.

Prude Alert: There is lots of language typical of unsupervised modern teens and frank portrayals and discussion of sex and sex related topics. Margaret White is portrayed as a super religious fanatic and there is a lot of blood and violence in the end. For those sensitive to such things and who are not fans of Steven King I suggest you curl up with a good book while sipping hot cocoa wrapped in a warm blanket in your favorite easy chair.

Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): The Beck Center for the Arts production of “Carrie – The Musical” combines all the elements needed to make a great show: solid performances, great singing and dancing numbers, believable special effects and an easy to follow story line with a strong theme. With its anti-bullying message, this should be required viewing for all area high schoolers and families.

Tickets are $29 for adults and $26 for seniors (65 and older) with an additional $3 service fee per ticket applied at time of purchase. Student tickets are $15 with valid I.D. (includes service fee). Group discounts are available for parties of four or more. Purchase tickets online at beckcenter.org or call Customer Service at 216.521.2540, ext. 10. Beck Center for the Arts is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.

This production of “Carrie: The Musical” is presented through special arrangement with R & H Theatricals:www.rnh.com and is sponsored by the residents of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, and the Ohio Arts Council.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary, Beck Center for the Arts is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization that offers professional theater productions on two stages, arts education programming for all ages and abilities, including Creative Arts Therapies for individuals with special needs, outreach education, and free gallery exhibits featuring local, regional, and international artists.

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