Director Steven Eubank has built a reputation in Kansas City as the reigning king of camp, but theatergoers who check out “Carrie the Musical” looking for cheap laughs may be disappointed.
The reason is simple: For this show Eubank plays it straight.
Interesting choice. Gutsy choice. So give the guy credit for trying to shake things up. Without question, this is a daunting undertaking for a small non-Equity company. But the material poses technical challenges that are just out of reach for this big-cast production. The song-filled adaptation of Stephen King’s first published novel proves to be an unwieldy mix of earnest, soul-searching numbers and a sluggish narrative.
Even so, Eubank showcases some vivid performances. Chief among the show’s pleasant surprises is that Tara Varney, perhaps best known as a director of original work at the annual fringe festival festival, posesses a formidable voice, which she demonstrates as the religiously obsessed Margaret White. In the title role, Chelsea Anglemyer exhibits a strong stage presence and a serious set of pipes as Margaret’s misfit daughter with potentially deadly telekinetic powers.
The show’s real standout is Megan Herrera as Sue, a well-meaning high school student whose guilt about the way her friends have treated Carrie leads her to unwittingly set up the catastrophic climax. Herrera’s voice is mesmerizing and the depth of feeling she brings to the stage is most welcome.
The charismatic Stefanie Wienecke is effective as Chris, the mean-spirited villain of the piece. It’s a one-note role but Wienecke makes the most of it. Christopher Carlson makes an agreeable impression as Tommy, Sue’s boyfriend, who ultimately escorts Carrie to the prom where a cruel practical joke triggers a frenzy of telekinetic comeuppance.
The large supporting cast brings a fair degree of texture to the show. Tiffany Powell’s choreography is lively and the two-level set, designed by Alex Perry and Jeff Eubank, allows visual depth and variety.
But there’s no getting around the dubious nature of the book, score and lyrics. Michael Gore’s music is instantly forgettable. He and his collaborators evidently lost sight of what makes “Carrie” a memorable entertainment. It’s a thriller, a page-turner, and when you load it up with songs the pacing becomes glacial.
A major hurdle, of course, is the violence. You just can’t do movie mayhem on stage. Eubank handles the crucial moment when Carrie is inundated in gore with a combination of stage blood and lighting, and her destructive powers are illustrated mainly through choreography and the equivalent of small firecrackers. It simply doesn’t have satisfying impact that a vengeance-is-mine moment needs.