At SNAP Productions, first rate singing, dancing and acting put new life into the legendary remains of Carrie, The Musical. The 1988 show, revived and revised, keeps on coming back despite many stakes thrust into its heart.
It does have heart, actually, given some harmonious music in the songs and the underlying theme that justice can be served when it comes to bullying. Such a premise dovetails with SNAP’s admirable devotion to diversity- oriented subjects, i.e., people or situations outside the mainstream. These days, certainly, children who are bullied often get picked on for being different. Evidently that is happening a lot, or, perhaps, more attention is being paid to it.
Stephen King’s novel does appear to be a logical choice about the issue, but turning it into a musical diminishes its possibilities. Indeed, there have been fierce operas, classical works and even some musicals going to the dark side; Sondheim comes to mind. This attempt by Lawrence D. Cohen, Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford doesn’t make the grade. In fact, it has become famous for its failings and they remain quite evident. The 14-member cast’s performances shine brightly, but they can’t blind you to what’s missing.
Carrie, The Musical is promoted as if it were a horror show, not a send-up. In SNAP’s serious approach from director Todd Brooks, all of the nearly two hours work up to the only thing which justifies the supposed terror, the well-known presumably frightening denouement. Everything that happens before looks like a transparent set-up. That includes the bullying which lacks major viciousness.
Most of the characters are high school kids, kids with not much on their minds. Such shallowness doesn’t usually suggest interesting people. And having some songs that resemble the kind of pop stuff which they would like doesn’t help the underdeveloped story. Doing a take-off on that, i.e., camping it up, might be fun, rather than this take.
Brooks has it move along vigorously and convincingly but it still looks predictable, as if Cohen figured that he could coast on the movie’s reputation. Some of the kids show signs of distinct personalities. No big deal. Many high school movies and plays have that. But these kids, the two school staff members dealing with them, and Carrie’s religious-fanatic mother look more like sketches than real people. Delivering 17 songs, moreover, takes up a lot of time which would be better devoted to giving the story heft, or an interesting point of view.
Unquestionably, every one sings with skill and talent. The classmate ensemble also has plenty of polish and style in Jason DeLong’s choreography. Another reminder that this city has an amazing number of non-professional performers.
As for acting, Gigi Hausman’s Carrie remains totally convincing as the meek mouse. In her eventual revenge she and Brooks perceptively make her more bewildered and frightened rather than reveling in her power. As good kids Sue and Tommy, Paloma Power and Mike Burns have believable sincerity. Several other people playing students, such as Kimberley McGreevy, Joshua Polack and Kimberlee Stone, likewise stay convincing.
The people who created this show, spinning off from King’s novel and not the screenplay, have major credits. Academy Award-winning composer Michael Gore wrote music for Fame, Terms of Endearment and more. Academy Award-winning lyricist Dean Pitchford worked on Fame as well, plus Footloose. Book-writer Lawrence D. Cohen adapted King’s novel for the Brian DePalma movie and for the 2013 film re-do of it.
Evidently the creators of the musical re-worked the original version of their show numerous times including for off-Broadway where it did well at the box office. In Carrie they have a title and a story that carries its own fame. Credit this cast for doing their damndest with that. But, how do you resurrect something that’s died so often?
Carrie The Musical runs through June 25, SNAP Productions, 3225 California St. Thurs.Fri.Sat. 8 p.m. Sun.: 6 p.m. June 17: 2 p.m. June 25: 2 p.m. Tickets $20-$25. www.snapproductions.com