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Carrie: The Musical Horror (Theatre Review)

Should you attend this prom? Read our Carrie: The Musical Horror review to find out!

M&W Theatre Group revives the 1980s musical version of Carrie to entertaining though modest effect at the Studio Stage in Los Angeles. Lacking lavish production values, the retitled Carrie: The Musical Horror cannot fully satisfy one’s expectations for a story about a telekinetic high school girl taking bloody revenge on her tormentors, but the cast is solid, the choreography is sprightly, and strong vocal performances fill any void in the budget, carrying the emotional weight of the melodrama.

An infamous flop when it quickly closed on Broadway in 1988, the Carrie musical has been revived several times since, including a 2015 immersive production in Los Angeles (retitled:  Carrie the Killer Musical Experience). M&W Theatre’s is based on the revival, which was revised by  writer Lawrence D. Cohen, with new songs by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford (none of whom are credited here). Since Cohen also scripted the 1976 film directed by Brian DePalma, it should be no surprise that the stage musical makes similar decisions about which plot points to retain from Stephen King’s bloated and overwritten novel (though the film’s most famous addition, the ending, is not included).

This streamlining keeps the story more focused. Unfortunately, the musical includes its own form of bloat, in the form a police interview with survivor Sue Snell (Malissa Marlow), which adds little to the story, and more particularly in a surfeit of songs. Individually, most of tunes are enjoyable, but sometimes they stop the narrative momentum at inopportune moments, as when Carrie (Tianna Cohen) finally stands up to her domineering mother (Leah Dalrymple) and heads to the high school prom – whereupon, instead of following Carrie to the expected horrifying climax, we stay with Mrs. White, who gives vent to her feelings in “When There’s No One,” even though we don’t really care what she is feeling at this particular moment.

Glitches like this are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the songs hit the right note (pardon the bad pun). The supporting cast handles the harmonies with precision, and the lead vocalists reach some amazing heights, particularly Cohen and Dalrymple, who duets form the highlight of the show.

Of course, the story is all about building up to what happens at the prom, when the antagonistic Chris (Kena Worthen) springs a bloody prank that drives Carrie to unleash her psychic powers on the assembled teens. Eerie red illumination and strobe lights cover up the absence of special effects during the chaos that ensues; the result may not be spectacular, but it is cathartic in a grim way (and of course our modern perception of the scene is colored by memories of Columbine, adding an extra disturbing layer to what seemed like pure fantasy back in the 1970s).

All performers handle their roles well. Only problem is that the age difference between the teens and the adults is not as clear as it should be; only David Faulkner is believable as a school official. Settings are minimal: a sign that serves double duty, first for the high school, then for the prom, and a raised platform where Carrie and Tommy (Noah Canada) are crowned at the prom. Clearly, Carrie: The Musical Horror is far removed from pricey Broadway version, but big-budget gloss has not always been a friend to the horror genre. M&W Theatre’s production engages the audience more directly, with song and dance performed practically in the viewer’s lap. When the blood hits the fan, duck.

Carrie: The Horror Musical Review

Bottom Line

Good performances and strong vocals make this an enjoyable trip to a bloody prom.

Carrie continues at the Studio Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004. Remaining dates are February 14-17. There are 8pm performances on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays. Matinee performances take place at 2pm on Saturdays and 4:30pm on Sundays. Visit mwtheatre.org for more info.

Directed by Malissa Marlow. Choreography and Costume Design by Kena Worthen. Musical Direction by Mark Nilan. Lighting Design by Greg Crafts. Cast: Tianna Cohen (Carrie White), Leah Dalrymple (Margaret White), Malissa Marlow (Susan Snell), Kena Worthen (Chris Hargensen), Noah Canada (Tommy Ross), Conner Stevens (Billy Nolan), Jeanette Airen (Miss Gardener), Michael Dumas (George Dawson), Blake Kevin Dwyer (Kenny Stokes), Luke Smith (Freddy Holt), Tiffany Bobbs(Norma Watson), Bella Phillips (Frieda Jason), Audrey Fischer (Helen Shyres), and Dave Faulkner (Mr. Stephens/Reverend Bliss/Detective).

Based on the musical by Lawrence D. Cohen (book), Dean Pitchford (lyrics), and Michael Gore (music), inspired by Stephen King’s novel.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.