Carrie White was a gentle, nice girl — before she killed everyone at the prom.
It’s been more than 40 years since Stephen King’s novel Carrie was released, so the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired. Carrie’s story has worked its way into our culture’s collective knowledge: The sheltered teen hits puberty and discovers that she’s telekinetic. Her classmates bully her, and her fundamentalist mother is awful to her, and when Carrie is doused with pig’s blood right after being named prom queen, she lashes out, slaughtering all of her classmates.
The story is inherently melodramatic, and it stands to reason that a musical version would be a campy mess.
Happily, that’s not the case with director Brady Schwind’s production, which emphasizes Carrie’s innocence and good intentions. Much of the show’s success is due to the heartbreaking and understated performance of Emily Lopez, who plays the title character. Indeed, the cast as a whole is quite good, with particularly nice performances from Kayla Parker as Sue (Carrie’s only sympathetic classmate) and Valerie Rose Curiel as Chris, the school’s most heinous bully.
Schwind’s storytelling is immersive — sections of the audience seated on mobile bleachers are wheeled around as the story unfolds, and the stage thrusts out, so that the audience is always close to the action. The production, which transferred from Orange County’s La Mirada Theatre, has taken over the Los Angeles Theatre, a gorgeous old movie palace.
The audience lines up outside before entering the theater, as if waiting for a school assembly; downstairs, you can walk through the locker room where Carrie gets her period and the farm where Chris and her boyfriend get the pig’s blood.
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There’s nothing half-assed about this production. There’s a sense of great artistry and commitment behind everything, including Lee Martino’s kinetic choreography, the aerial sequences by Paul Rubin and Carrie’s telekinesis by Jim Steinmeyer. The production value is high but doesn’t distract from the strong performances that ground the show.
Carrie doesn’t have a great track record as a musical — the original Broadway production was a notorious and expensive flop, closing after three performances after it opened in 1988, and the off-Broadway revival/revisal a few years back that tried to fix the original wasn’t well-received. But this production (a second “revisal,” further altered the 2012 off-Broadway version) seems to have finally hit the nail on the head, bringing Carrie the notoriety she deserves.
Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway, downtown; through Nov. 22. (888) 596-1027, ExperienceCarrie.com.