INCLUDING ONE FROM A WOMAN WHO HAD NEVER READ KING'S BOOK NOR SEEN ANY FILM VERSION
Brady Schwind's audience-immersive stage version of Carrie The Musical runs through April 5th at La Mirada Theatre in southern California. Here are some review samples:
Renée Camus, Reel Life with Jane
"Full disclosure: I’ve never read [Stephen] King’s book, or seen the movie; either the classic 1976 Brian De Palma film, or the recent remake. I generally don’t watch horror films—yet my favorite musical is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the brilliant and hugely successful horror musical by Stephen Sondheim. So why not a musical based on Carrie?
"...The show starts with Carrie’s classmate, Sue Snell (Kayla Parker), under a harsh spotlight, being questioned about the events that happen at the end of the musical. We know we’re headed for badness—but most of us know that going in anyway (the ubiquitous pictures of Sissy Spacek dripping red told me this without seeing the film). Lights brighten as the cast joins her for the opening number, which dissolves into Carrie in the gym shower discovering that she’s bleeding. Not knowing this part of the story, I was surprised to see the women all stripping down to their underwear, and I wondered why it was necessary. Then I noticed Carrie off to the side, directly in front of a single line of audience members at the back of the space, completely nude.
"Apparently the story calls for at least a reference to nudity, with its close association of sex and sinning, but I didn’t feel it was completely necessary for the cast to strip down (they probably could have hid it or made it less obvious). Having the audience so close to the action made it that much more uncomfortable. Especially given Margaret’s warnings to Carrie not to shower at school, it’s surprising that she would.
"Director Brady Schwind and producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman set out to create an interactive, immersive experience by transforming La Mirada Theatre into Carrie’s high school. Audience members get wristbands that separate them into freshman, sophomores, faculty members, or other school delineations, based on their seating assignments. They’re then taken into the 'assembly' by class, passing by beat-up lockers and graffitied desk-chairs, and seated in bleachers built onto the stage. Despite the attempts at emersion and interaction, the staging didn’t add much. The four sections directly on the floor are pulled and moved around, which perhaps put those audience members more in the thick of it, but for those of us further back on the immovable bleachers, it wasn’t quite such an interactive experience. Well, except for the pain in our buttocks from the vastly uncomfortable seats (make sure to bring a cushion with you when you go)."
David C. Nichols, Los Angeles Times
"Never underestimate the power of stagecraft. Case in point: Carrie: The Musical, now receiving a mind-blowing immersive production at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts...
"However, Carrie is a better musical than before, but it's still not a great one. Gore’s tunes are pleasant but, barring Carrie and Mom's songs, not very individuated, Pitchford’s lyrics are prosaic, at times prolix, and [Lawrence D.] Cohen’s book doesn’t explore its All Teens Are Alienated theme beyond surface considerations.
"That will scarcely matter to audiences craving a full-throttle theatrical experience -- Cirque du Soleil meets Disneyland, with pig’s blood -- and musical theater cultists should flock."
Eric Marchese, Orange County Register
"Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the 1976 film version, has crafted a book that gets at the heart of the story’s characters and themes. Composer Michael Gore’s gorgeous music and lyricist Dean Pitchford’s powerful, poetic lyrics express from-the-heart emotions, but without being sappy or trite.
"Director Brady Schwind’s immersive production unfolds on the venue’s stage, where roughly 200 patrons are positioned amid the cast. The movable front sections of seats are pushed and rolled to and fro, making the experience all the more intimate.
"Schwind and choreographer Lee Martino make full and brilliant use of the play itself and of a superb cast of 19. To top it off, illusionist Jim Steinmeyer’s special effects make Carrie’s telekinetic powers real, as objects move, levitate or fly at her command.
"At every turn, Carrie the Musical puts the angst of teendom on full display, its climax a stunning, bloody explosion of chaos and mayhem. La Mirada’s intimate staging is at once gripping, horrifying and beautifully moving. It’s also one of the best shows you’ll ever see anywhere – one not to be missed."
Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
"Suffice it to say that King/De Palma fans won’t be disappointed...
"The La Mirada Theatre has found its dream Carrie in Emily Lopez, who not only gives us the heartbreaking, deeply-felt portrait of a troubled teen discovering strengths she never dreamed she had, she sings with gorgeous power pipes and makes us believe in Carrie’s transformation from ugly duckling to exquisite swan."
Don Grigware, Broadway World
"The stage is the back part of the regular theatre stage and it has been cordoned off, serving as the high school gymnasium. Audience sit in the three-quarter and watch the action literally a few feet away from them. There are seats on two levels. The first group of seats called the pods are level with the stage. There are levels above for audience through which cast members make entrances and exits and sometimes play/sing and then there is a third level playing area above for only actors. Those sitting in the pods are moved at various intervals to the left and to the right, sometimes mirror imaging each other and other times, not. Hardly your ordinary seating arrangement, but it definitely puts you smack dab in the middle of the playing field. You are there, feeling what the characters are feeling, almost a part of the action.
"I sat in the tier above the pods so I had the advantage of looking down at the action on the stage and also up to what was transpiring on the third level. One scene in particular in Act One involves Carrie praying to Jesus on the cross within a room of her house. Jesus literally comes down off the cross and while this is happening, on the third level, Tommy Ross (Jon Robert Hall) and his girlfriend Sue Snell (Kayla Parker) are making torrid love. Quite the contrast as blatant sexuality and spirituality clash in full force right before our eyes! In Act Two what served as the back wall of the gym with basketball scoreboard opens up and becomes the dance floor for the prom. Stephen Gifford's scenic design for the entire show is awesome as is Schwind's staging of the actors, who are literally everywhere within the space, putting audience at arm's length for every experience, good and evil."