I finally saw "Carrie" the musical after years of waiting and for the most part was well worth it.
As the ultimate fan of the 1976 movie (and the lover of musicals) I was more than thrilled when it became a musical on Broadway. But before the young Kevin could buy tickets for the 1988 production, it closed after five performances. At least I managed to get the Broadway poster (thanks Susan!) and hear a song on a Betty Buckley CD.
Fast forward to 2012. "Carrie" comes back to New York - this time off-Broadway. While Buckley received an award nomination on Broadway, the original had mostly bad reviews and the off-Broadway version seemed more welcome by the critics and the audience. But alas, it was only scheduled for a short run and I couldn't make it to New York in time.
Then last year when Ray of Light Theatre announced its season and included "Carrie," I was thrilled I was finally going to prom! I've been excited all year. Not overly consumed, I mean, it's only a musical. But I've reflected on some of the past Ray of Light productions and knew "Carrie" was in good hands.
And I was right. Any problems I do have with "Carrie" the musical are in the book and not the production. Sometimes, the dialog seems more scripted than natural and the flashback voice over court-like scenes are completely unnecessary. But I forgive the book of the musical because Ray of Light managed to find three amazingly talented women to play crucial roles in the show...whose voices can make any show a great success.
In the role of "Carrie," Cristina Ann Oeschger makes her ROLT debut and she is convincing as a high school student because she is in high school. She's sweet, tender, innocent and Carrie-like awkward. When she sings, you're in love. If she just sang to those awful school bullies, Carrie would not be the ridiculed loner, instead a popular girl. Oeschger catapults to the top of my radar when it comes to great young musical talent. While a big fan of Sissy Spacek from the movie, Oeschger is her own Carrie.
Piper Laurie in the movie, Betty Buckley on Broadway and Marin Mazzie off-Broadway truly are hard acts to follow. But Heather Orth is a strong Margaret White, reaching deep in her own soul to find the skeletons and dysfunction that has made Margaret and Carrie the outcasts they are.
Orth gets one of the show's best songs (the one I've listened to for years that Buckley recorded as there was never a cast album). Her towering voice pierces even the hearts of the Victoria Theatre's back row when she finds the emotional core of "When There's No One."
Carrie the character's best number is a duet with the coach, "Unsuspecting Hearts" and, with Jessica Coker as the coach, this song is truly the best diva singing battle since perhaps a regional theatre level Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. Both women have the pipes to make this song a crowd pleaser at every performance.
The ensemble are all fine - but performance-wise the show is made by Oeschger, Orth and Coker, whose voices kick ass at every turn, elevating to the show to a higher sphere.
Amanda Folena's choreography also needs to be pointed out, primarily for the prom sequence, which goes from happy to terror in just moments. Carrie's retribution is felt in the audience, thanks to her excellent choreography and Jason Hoover's direction.
Kelly James Tighe's set design along with Joe D'Emilio's lighting are also stars as they enhance the sets with optical illustrations, or holograms if you will, which make every scene richer, including the prom bloodbath. I haven't see this sophisticated of a design since the West End production of "The Woman in White."
It also needs pointing out that the show has been updated to modern times, making the topical issue of bullying be an important side note for us all to remember, including with anti-bullying ads in the program and lobby. Wow - great to have a cult musical with a message.
"Carrie" is only here for a month. I've had to wait 25 years to see it. You shouldn't. Get information and tickets at www.rayoflighttheatre.com.