REVIEW: Clemson Little Theatre’s “Carrie: The Musical” is a Bloody Good Time

Rachel Andrews stars as Carrie White in "Carrie:The Musical."
Rachel Andrews stars as Carrie White in “Carrie:The Musical.”

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

They’re All Gonna Laugh at You!

Horror fans rejoice! “Carrie: The Musical” based on Stephen King’s novel and the 1976 cult film with Sissy Spacek as an awkward teenage girl with telekinetic powers, is scaring audiences for one more weekend at the Clemson-Pendleton Playhouse.

Considered one of the most legendary musicals flops ever produced on the Great White Way (closing in 1988 after only16 previews and 5 performances), “Carrie” was vastly re-worked in 2012 by its authors who replaced nearly half the songs and the result is much grander than expected.

The lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Michael Gore are admirable indeed. And Lawrence D. Cohen’s book, who wrote the original “Carrie” screenplay, has delicately truncated his script with all of the crucial and most memorable scenes intact

Though Carrie White (Rachel Andrews) is the title character, the most popular girl in school Sue Snell (a fantastic and bold Natalie Hill), tells Carrie’s story in flashbacks beginning with the “locker room incident” that precipitated the guilt-ridden Sue to give up her prom date to Carrie for “A Night We’ll Never Forget.”

“Carrie” is rooted in guilt and much of it derived from Catholicism with the role of Mrs. White (Melissa Whitfield) who, besides being a religious fanatic, drives her daughter to the dark side. Faith and ritual, in fact, define their dysfunctional relationship in duets with titles like “Open Your Heart,” “And Eve Was Weak” and “Evening Prayers.”

And Andrews and Whitfield don’t squander any opportunity to harmonize as they carry the lioness’s share of the songs. Their vocal parts blend effortlessly in “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance” and “Stay Here Instead” and Ms. Whitfield, whose character has been expanded in this version, is exceptionally enchanting in her solo and prelude to destruction “When There’s No One.”

Some monologues are culled line-for-line from the original film such as Coach Gardner’s (Shannon Ruhe) tough-love punishment of the girls’ gym class for bullying poor Carrie White. Ms. Ruhe is magnificent with robust vocal delights and it you close your eyes, you can almost hear Betty Buckley, from the original film and Mrs. White in the original Broadway cast.

Miss Hill, who has been on the stage for much of her life, is confident, dynamic and in fine form here with songs like “Once You See” and “You Shine.”  And rounding out the cast of high school stereotypes are Cordie Kale as Sue’s varsity-athlete boyfriend Tommy Ross; and Holli Griffin and veteran actor and musician Chuck Chapman brilliantly play the spoiled-rotten best friend Chris Hargensen and the bad boy Billy Nolan (John Travolta in the film), who decide revenge is best served with pig’s blood. And audiences will also spot rock musician Jimmy Harper in the vibrant young ensemble.

And Miss Andrews valiantly transforms into the scorned heroine for the musical’s last gripping 8 minutes at the prom in a sequence that may be the most thrilling ending I have seen all season with a plethora of exciting special effects and more fake blood than “Sweeney Todd.” The only thing missing is director Brian de Palma’s signature split screen.

“Carrie” is low-camp and low-budget for sure but it’s a bloody good time and director Jimmy O. Burdette brings out every trick in his arsenal including fire, levitating objects, doors that open and close under Carrie’s powers and even bits of the score from “The Exorcist.”

Burdette has retained the 1970s sensibility of the source material (such as the coach slapping her insolent student) but there are some modern anachronisms in this updating including the girls posting a video of the “locker room incident” with their iPhone. And if you have to ask what the “locker room incident” is, then see the play.

The spooky prom set is designed by Burdette and Hugh Spitler, lights are by Richard Cowan and sound is by Vic Aviles and Warren Ashmore. Sybil Todd is producer and Miss Hill also serves as choreographer and assistant director.

“Carrie” also features a live band conducted by Music Director Terry Manigault. The hard acoustics do allow the musicians to overpower the vocals a couple of times, but the overall effect is a resounding success.

“Carrie” is not overtly violent actually and it’s not offensive, but it may not be everyone’s glass of tea. It’s really just a gentle story about a teen-age hormones and a couple of bullies who just happened to pick the wrong girl to mess with.

“Carrie” continues Friday and Saturday, June 10-11 at 8 p.m. & Sunday, June 12 at 3 p.m. at Clemson-Pendleton Playhouse, 214 S. Mechanic St. in Pendleton. For tickets, call: (864) 646-8100.

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