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Friday, February 7, 2014


Cinderella went to the ball and it had a happy ending. Carrie White went to the ball and the result, was a hot mess. In 1976, the film “Carrie” exploded into movie houses telling the tale of a young teenager, with a unique gift, who is trying to find herself in high school. We all know how cruel kids can be, especially if you are plain and don't fit in. Add in a hyper religious mother with assiduous control over any decision that would allow her to mature and gain independence, and the results are not kind to anyone. Currently at Beck Center for the Arts, the stage production of CARRIE, THE MUSICAL is heating up the boards, or what is left of them.

This production is directed by Victoria Bussert. That alone takes me to a place of high anticipation and excitement. It reminds me of being at a racetrack, feeling the intensity in the air, watching the horses come into the starting gates, feeling the athletic energy rip through the atmosphere, then hearing the bell, and all hell breaks loose. When the lights go down, I hear that bell. I know that my anticipation will be met with musical athletes that have professionally trained through academia at the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory, which is one of the strongest musical theatre programs in the country, led by Bussert herself. This production is a nostalgic gift of epic proportions. Paced with energy and deft scene changes that never let you fade away.

From the very first number, the athletic nature of the dance is dictated beautifully by choreographer Gregory Daniels. Watching the ensemble explode onto the stage, reminded me of a Crossfit WOD that was designed to create a musical Seal Team. It was hot, pulsating, and with flair for days.

Nancy Maier provides great musical direction and a glorious orchestra to tell the tale of Sween.... I mean Carrie.

Carrie White appears, sublimely played by Caitlin Houlahan. Her charming unassuming presence made you want to protect her. Watching her journey was enthralling, creating a character wrapped in shyness and fear, then slowly evolving and discovering her inner power, powers, and confidence that grew with every encounter. She morphed slowly and surely as she dealt with her body changing, her mother’s religious fanaticism, the pain of high school identity, and, finally, the ultimate embarrassment and deception. Houlahan’s beautiful clear voice was the perfect vehicle for the story. Carrie’s transformation at the end of Act One is a moment that will stay with me for some time.

Katherine DeBoer brings her accomplished chops to the role of Margaret White, with commanding vocals which effortlessly range between loving passages and demented religious fervor. DeBoer's Margaret is a thesis presentation of histrionics and misplaced compassion. Besides the cruelty of the high school kids, I always felt uneasy every time she appeared. And that is a very good thing. Her descent into hell is riveting. DeBoer’s "And Eve Was Weak" gave me chills.

Sara Masterson is a beautiful revelation as Sue Snell, the at first snarky, but then, compunctious friend of Carrie. It is such an honest performance of showing someone truly changing heart, and compassionate enough to take socially unpopular steps for redemption. She is the storyteller of this tale, with asides that literally guide us to the catastrophic prom night. She also guides us with a voice that impressively holds emotion in perfect control. Masterson is an actress that inhabits her character and draws you in close as she tells her own story.

Coltan Ryan as Tommy Ross kicks some ass. Watching a character that is the all American kid can make for an uneventful presentation, but not in this case. He is a perfect complement to Masterson, and provides depth that enhances his story line. But the moment that Ryan breaks the mold is the stunning and elegant “Dreamer in Disguise.” When this song comes out of a poem he is forced to read in front of the class, you can't hear a sound in the theatre. That's because the audience is transfixed and doesn't dare make a sound to interrupt the emotion and quality of what is happening. Later on, after accepting Sue's proposal to take Carrie to the prom, you truly get the feeling that Tommy Ross wants Carrie to have the night of her life. That is a mission well-acted.

Inhabiting Chris Hargensen, the adversarial nemesis of Carrie, Genna-Paige Kanago is a bitch on wheels. I can't tell you the number of times I just wanted to spray her with water bottle to make her stop. And that means an excellent creation of someone we love to hate. With a body that would stop Fleet Week in its tracks, Kanago struts, insults, gyrates, and Lupones it out of the park. Chris doesn’t have much of a character arc--she is a one note bitchmobile--but Kanago infuses her character with a never ending glee of self-absorption.

Sam Wolf as Billy Nolan is appropriately in the throes of hormones, gym workouts and conquering Mount Hargensen. He has a commanding presence on the stage, and easily draws your attention with sinewy energy. You can almost feel the Rocky theme play when he enters, but then his SAT score cuts the music off. Edgy looks and strong vocals make Wolf a blast to watch.

Jodi Dominick nails Miss Gardner. Being Carrie’s adult support system within the school, Dominick shows the athletic authoritarian side of Gardner, and then slowly displays the layers of compassion. Watching her glide in and out of Carrie’s life provides us a chance to root for the underdog, as maybe we ourselves have helped someone less fortunate. Dominick also possesses a clarion voiced instrument, "Unsuspecting Hearts" is ample evidence of a beautiful voice that never misses a day of work.

Highlighting some of the searing ensemble, all of whom represented a collage of musical brilliance, includes Ian Gregory Hill as Mr. Stephens, John Kramer who can definitely cut a rug with the best of them, and my personal favorite bitchy sidekick, Norma, played with relishable delight by Adrian Grace Bumpas. It does not surprise me that Bumpas is the understudy to the role of Chris. There is a lot of talent in that young lady.

Scenic Design worked really well by wrapping the stage with the final exit structure, and with Russ Borski's deft lighting, enabling scenes to be played in multiple areas with clarity of place and time. Also, the laser starlit night was mesmerizing.

Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber worked the era correctly and helped transform Carrie into a prom night hit.

Sound Designer Richard B. Ingraham has his work cut out for him. Some preview night misfires that will surely be worked out, but great quality being able to hear and understand the music and voices. It doesn't always happen that way.

The collaboration between Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program and the Beck Center has another winner. Like “Spring Awakening” and “Next to Normal,” Carrie is sure to please. Luckily for the audience, the stage version does not include the hand coming out of the grave at the end like the movie, because when that happened, Maria Callas would have been proud of the high pitched note that came out of my mouth.


Kevin Joseph Kelly

February 7 - March 9
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

$13-$32 Reserved Seating
(216) 521-2540

Beck Center for the Arts
17801 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107

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