I’ve always been a huge fan of Stephen King’s blood-soaked book and the 1976 movie version, so I was cautiously optimistic as I crept into the lobby of the Los Angeles Theatre to see Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience. As soon as I was inside the gorgeous old theater, I could see why the producers have called this an “experience”.
Posters advertising the Ewan High Senior Prom hang on the walls, bouquets of flowers splattered with blood lay on tables with crown and sash, and downstairs from the main lobby there are secret rooms to discover. Get there early and go exploring!
I won’t give it all away, but Carrie fans will love finding the farm where the pig was slaughtered, the girls locker room where Carrie is taunted, and even the closet where she goes to pray. All recreated with such care that it was like walking through the whole show before it began. The level of detail in these hidden gems is insane and makes for some really sick photo ops!
First, I have to tell you that there are three types of tickets available… Sophomores, Junior Class, and Senior Class. Just like in high school, there are big benefits to being a Senior. With imaginative design by Stephen Gifford, the Senior Class sits on graffiti-scrawled bleachers which move around the stage.
Gifford and Director Brady Schwind use the on-stage bleachers like a brilliant cinematographer, pushing in and pulling back from the scenes as actors shove the platformed seats to face different areas or close in on performers. Sometimes an actor will jump on and go for a ride, hopping up onto a guest’s lap or hanging off the edge of the bleachers and whispering conspiratorially as your viewpoint is adjusted. It’s thrilling. I felt a little like Carrie at the prom, swept off my feet and whisked around the dance floor, never quite in control of what was happening to me.
The bleachers push in tight as Carrie, a naked crumpled heap on the locker room floor, is taunted by a group of “mean girls” led by Valerie Rose Curiel as Chris. Coltishly shaking her Ariana Grande ponytail, she’s the perfect bratty villain. The bleachers pull back to make room for gym class as the girls run, giggling and panting, around the larger space. They push in again for beautifully tender moments between Carrie and her mother, Margaret. Played hauntingly by Misty Cotton, Carrie’s mother is terrifying and hypnotic. When she sings “Evening Prayers” with Carrie, the harmony of their voices was so enthralling, it was as if everyone watching was trying not to breathe.
Carrie, played by Emily Lopez, is a brave and talented performer. Mastering illusions by Jim Steinmeyer, she believably demonstrates Carrie’s growing telekinetic powers. Then, in quiet moments with Jenelle Lynn Randall, as Miss Gardner her sympathetic gym teacher, she reminded me of all the awkwardly painful high school feelings that kids have when they are not part of a clique. It gets better, they say.
Updated to take place now, the production felt like a Ryan Murphy hybrid of Glee and American Horror Story. Gory, dangerous, and seductive. The teens shuffled across the stage with their faces glued to their cellphones, pairing up in cliched cliques. The stoner skaters, the goths, the popular jocks, the nerds… the more things change, the more they stay the same. And the violence in the sickeningly sad climax of Carrie still feels startling and inevitable.
Carrie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Part circus, part intimate performance art, part heartbreak, part horror. This production of Carrie will touch you and send you spinning… literally.
Now playing at the Los Angeles Theatre.
For tickets and information: