Carrie – A Production That You Will Never Forget

Callie Johnson (center) and the cast of Bailiwick Chicago’s Chicago premiere of CARRIE: The Musical with music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, book by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King, directed by Michael Driscoll and music direction by Aaron Benham. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Highly Recommended: Theatre In Chicago

Reviewed By: James Murray

I must admit that when I walked into the theatre I had reservations about Stephen King’s cult classic Carrie given a musical treatment and that in the wrong hands it could be a campy disaster.  I give kudos to Bailiwick for tackling it, avoiding that trap, and pulling it off in a mostly successful manner which I hope will pay off for them both financially and artistically

For those who do not know this classic story Carrie White is a misfit.  At school, she’s an outcast who’s bullied by the popular crowd, and virtually invisible to everyone else.  At home, she’s at the mercy of her loving but cruelly overprotective mother.  But Carrie’s just discovered she’s got a special power, and if pushed too far, she’s not afraid to use it (in a magnificently staged prom scene).

The musical score by Michael Gore places heavy vocal demands on the singers with large jumps from upper to lower register and requires singers with strong, rock style voices that can belt in their upper range.  Several of the cast found difficulties with this feat and either their mics were not functioning properly or the voices were not suited to this particular style of singing.  I also felt that the orchestra overpowered the singers as it was hard to hear them.  I am sure they will find more of a balance between the two that will make it easier to understand.

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(left to right) Katherine L. Condit and Callie Johnson

They did superbly well with the more lyrical ballads like the haunting “Evening Prayers” and the beautiful number between Carrie (the superb Callie Johnson in a tour de force performance that should win her a Jeff) and her mother Margaret (superbly played by Katherine Condit) “Stay Here Inside”.  Katherine Condit performed what I consider to be one of the strongest numbers in the show “When There’s No One” superbly.  Also worth mentioning is Henry McGuiness’ Tommy who captures the charm and charisma of the character and one of the few you really feel for in Carrie’s destruction.  His ballad “Dreamer in Disguise” is beautifully and honestly delivered and Kate Grassino’s “Unsuspecting Hearts” was touching and heartfelt.

I thought the weakest song in the show was unfortunately the one that introduces us to Carrie (Carrie) which was manic and all over the place that it made it hard to connect with her at first.  I am not sure if Carrie’s mic was not functioning properly or the song was not suited to her voice, but in several of her songs in Act One I had a hard time hearing her over the orchestra (very fine musicians) in her softer moments.  However, Callie turns in a performance that is honest, touching and powerful.  She is one of the finest actresses in the Chicago theatre scene at present and I cannot imagine this role being played better by any other actress.

The program states the action of the play takes place in Maine and there was no attempt at creating the eastern accent of the region dialect so it appeared this was in Chicago.  A dialect coach would have added so much to the production.

The Lyrics by Dean Pitchford are outstanding (rare for musicals composed today) and the Book by Lawrence D. Cohen captures the pathos, horror and humor of Stephen King’s story in a tight, concise manner with not a word wasted.  I hope the cast will sharpen their diction at the ends of words (consonants) so the lyrics can be fully understood.

left to right) Henry McGinniss, Rochelle Therrien and Callie Johnson (front)

(left to right) Henry McGinniss, Rochelle Therrien and Callie Johnson (front)

Director Michael Driscoll handles much of this difficult piece well and, with Casting Director Harmony France, has selected several great actors with strong chemistry; Carrie, her mother and Tommy to name a few.

However I would like to see more of a variety of acting moments between Carrie and her mother to give more depth and texture to this key relationship instead of making obvious choices.   It seemed that the actors played the same tactics and choices (especially noticeable in the first act).

Blood plays an important role in Carrie and when the bucket of blood is brought out it is obvious that there is only a small amount in the bottom which destroys the credibility of what is to come.  That said the actual blood itself was very well created and looked extremely real, adding to the horrific moment when it ends up all over Carrie.

Brigitte Ditmars choreography is sharp and well-fitted to the small stage and her staging of the famous prom scene when Carrie lets loose is magnificent.  In fact the prom sequence is pulled off so well that it is truly horrifying and completely believable.  I owe much to performance of Callie Johnson, her frightening transformation and how she physically sends her arch-enemy Chris into painful contortions (played so well by Samantha Dubina that you wanted to murder her and secretly applaud when Carrie finally does).

The Scenic Design of metal lockers suspended overhead by Stephen Carmody is masterfully done and what happens during the prom scene (which I won’t give away) is theatrical magic at its finest and Charles Cooper’s Lightening Design (extremely important in establishing the Gothic mood of the piece) deserves an award.

The Chicago Premiere of Carrie is a feather in Bailiwick’s cap of which they can be proud and one not to be missed.

Bailiwick Repertory’s production of CARRIE plays through July 12, 2014 at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.  Tickets are available at www.victorygardens.org, by calling (773) 871-3000 or in-person at the Victory Gardens Box Office.  For calendar information visit www.TheatreInChicago.com

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