‘Carrie the Musical’ scores for camp 

One of Broadway’s biggest flops has returned. A quarter-century after “Carrie the Musical” cost $8 million to bring to the Great White Way, yet closed after only 16 previews and five performances, its revised version has arrived at San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre.

Presented by Ray of Light Theatre, the production scores a solid nine for devoted performances, a screaming 10 for camp value, and an abysmal two for memorable melodies.

Lawrence D. Cohen’s adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel “Carrie” features music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford. If you find yourself leaving the theater whistling a single tune, you definitely deserve a prize (for what, I’m not saying).

What’s more likely, however, is that you’ll bemoan how every tune vaguely sounds like the same late-1980s bubblegum pop, and how every singer renders them in the same hybrid pop-soul-Broadway-belter contemporary fashion. Until the heebie jeebies stuff starts, you may find yourself asking why, given the excellence of the novel and 1976 movie adaptation, the musical’s distinctly ungifted creative team even bothered.

But then the fun begins. Carrie, a naive, 17-year-old high school senior who freaks out and receives undeserved ridicule when she menstruates for the first time, simultaneously defies her crazed fundamentalist Christian mother and develops telekinetic powers. (Given that the musical runs only two hours, including a 20-minute intermission, the powers come very fast.)

What Carrie does with those powers — and how director Jason Hoover, projections designer Eric Scanlon, sound designer Anton Hedman and technical director Daniel Cadigan handle them — is reason aplenty to attend. I laughed so hard that my asthma kicked in.

You’ll also marvel at many of the mostly young performers. It’s a shame they’re amplified in the relatively small Victoria Theatre, because the sound, while much better than at Ray of Light’s last venture at the Victoria, nonetheless adheres to the MP3 model of minimal midrange and lots of bright, glassy top. Worse is the fact that, even from a prime orchestra seat, the sound is so disembodied that it seems as though the singers are lip-syncing.

That’s a shame because, thanks to music director Ben Price and choreographer Amanda Folena, several performances are extraordinary. Chief among them are high school junior Cristina Ann Oeschger, whose Carrie is both touching and powerful; Heather Orth, whose Mother manages to combine hysteria with earthiness; Riley Krull, whose better-to-whip-than-be-whipped Chris excels in despicable spoiled bitch; Jessica Coker, who plays the gym teacher with a heart who we all wish we’d had; Nikita Burshteyn, who is the sweetest Tommy you can imagine; and Courtney Merrell, whose big heart convinces.

The music is mediocre, and the quasi-profound ending ridiculous, but you’ll still cheer.

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Bio:
Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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