Thursday, May 15, 2014

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Carrie The Musical" - A Bloody Good Night At The Theater

Under the steady guiding hand of Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company can always be counted on to give its patrons their money's worth when they come out to see one of the Company's shows.  The final production of the 2013-2014 season is no exception.  "Carrie The Musical" provides audience members with enough sights and sounds to justify the enthusiastic applause at the curtain call.  But the journey to get to that satisfying conclusion was not an easy one.

Allow me to explain by way of some background and a culinary parable.  The original production of "Carrie The Musical" is known as one of the most expensive flops in Broadway history.  It opened in 1988 at a cost of $8 million, and closed after only 5 performances. Audiences hated the show but loved the cast.  Remember this fact!  The show has undergone several re-writes and down-sizings in the subsequent 26 years, and SpeakEasy has chosen to bring that re-configured version to Boston for its New England Premiere.

The parable: I think of this production of "Carrie the Musical" as a meal being offered to the discerning patrons at SpeakEasy.  The producers, in essence, said to the creative team behind Carrie, "Send us the raw ingredients from which we can prepare a meal fit for a Prom banquet.  Prime rib would be nice"  What arrived at SpeakEasy's kitchen door was a bundle of stew beef - stringy, tough, chewy, bloody.  So, the SpeakEasy team put their heads together and decided that they would do the best they could with the ingredients that had been delivered. The Director and cast massaged that meat for a few weeks as if it were Kobe beef. They marinated it in a special secret marinade, made up of 10 parts Special BoCo Hot Sauce, a healthy splash of Paul Melone Merlot and a few Back Bay leaves for additional spice.  In the meantime, the rest of the crew was busy making sure that the patrons would dine in a salon that was well-appointed with the best mood lighting possible and a fine live band to create just the right mood.  Perhaps they also employed some hidden telekinetic powers, for the presentation of the meal was up to the high expectations of the patrons.  The meal tasted just like prime rib, and was offered just as the patrons had ordered: "Well Done!"

When Jesus told parables, he also offered interpretations, so I can do no less.  Book writer Lawrence D. Cohen, Composer Michael Gore and Lyricist Dean Pitchford are all acclaimed theater and film professionals.  They have each won awards for their work.  Yet for whatever reason, they have struggled mightily to create a cohesive theater piece out of Stephen King's novel.  I found the lyrics often sophomoric and simplistic.  The music is occasionally moving, but mostly forgettable.  Yet out of this assemblage of leftovers, Director Paul Melone and this astonishingly good cast have cooked up a production that made for a very satisfying night at the theater for me and for the rest of the appreciative audience.

They were helped immensely by a wonderful set designed by Eric Levenson, Costumes by Emily Woods Hogue, Lighting by Jeff Adelberg, Musical Direction by Nicholas James Cornell, Choreography by Larry Sousa, Sound by David Reifel and Production Design by Seaghan McKay.  

The Cast
Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
The cast::

  • Jorge Baranco - Stokes
  • Paige Berkowitz - Chris Hargenson
  • Shonna Cirone - Miss Gardner
  • John Costa - Reverend Bliss/Mr. Stephens
  • Kerry A. Dowling - Margaret White
  • Sarah Drake - Sue Snell
  • Elizabeth Erardi - Carrie White
  • Alexa Liebersfeld - Helen
  • Joe Longthorne - Tommy Ross
  • Amanda Lopez - Norma
  • Stephen Markarian - Freddy
  • Phil Tayler - Billy Nolan
  • Adena Walker - Frieda
  • Daniel Scott Walton - George
Standing out among this stellar cast are the following:

  • Elizabeth Erardi is the eponymous Carrie.  She walks a perilous path that leads from fragility and vulnerability to wonder at her new powers to murderous rage at her tormentors and then back again to fragility and vulnerability.  She is perfectly cast in this role.
  • Kerry A. Dowling as Carrie's fanatical mother is frighteningly good as the fallen woman who hides behind a cloak of religion to assuage her guilt and torment her daughter.  The contrast of her angelic singing voice with her dark angel of a Mommy Dearest makes her character all the more monstrous and compelling.
  • Sarah Drake is Sue Snell who starts out as one of Carrie's tormentors, but repents and arranges for Carrie to attend the Prom with Sue's boyfriend, Tommy.  She brings to her solo "Once You See" and her other songs the same gorgeous voice and strong stage presence I have come to expect from this gifted actor.
  • Joe Longthorne does a nice job as Tommy Ross, sensitive "Big Man on Campus" who agrees reluctantly to be the date for outcast Carrie at the Prom.  His singing voice in "Dreamer In Disguise" is a highlight of the show.
  • Paige Berkowitz as Chris Hargenson is the antagonist/villain you love to hate.  Snarky and scheming as she plots revenge on Carrie, she drips venom and attitude.  Her song, "World According To Chris" is a highlight.
  • Shonna Cirone as Miss Gardner breaks through the stereotype of the butch gym teacher and shows a sensitive side as she sings with Carrie in the beautiful "Unsuspecting Hearts."
  • Phil Tayler as Billy Nolan clearly is having fun as the Rebel Without A Cause Bad Boy boyfriend of Chris.  He is usually the "agent provocateur," but even he wonders if Chris is going too far in the prank she has planned for the Prom.
  • Daniel Scott Walton as George does a terrific job in conveying the latent homoerotic urges that he struggles to hide in a place like Chamberlain, Maine, where they may not be fully accepted.
The Prom
Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

In choosing to set this tale in fictional Chamberlain, Maine, Stephen King is coyly nodding at Maine Governor Joshua Chamberlain, hero of Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysberg - one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.  With King, you know that there will be blood.

I encourage you to grab a date and come on out to the Prom and Banquet that SpeakEasy is throwing in this production of "Carrie The Musical."  And be sure to expect your theatrical meal to be presented to you "Well Done"!


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Music by Michael Gore
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Book by Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on the novel by Stephen King

Directed by Paul Melone
Musical Direction by Nicholas James Connell
Choreographed by Larry Sousa

"Carrie White has always been an outsider. Relentlessly tormented at school and tyrannized by a fanatical mother, she begins to have hope that things will change when she is unexpectedly asked to her senior prom. Little does she know what cruelty her classmates have in store for her, and what extraordinary and terrifying power her anger will unleash."

  RUN TIME: 2 hours including one intermission.


BOX OFFICE PHONE: 617-933-8600
CARRIE the musical is presented through special arrangement with R & H Theatricals:

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