CARRIE: The Musical gets new life by Ray of Light Theatre

Kedar Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

CARRIE: The Musical. Book by Lawrence D. Cohen based on the novel by Stephen King. Music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford. Directed by Jason Hoover. Ray of Light Theater Company, Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (between Mission/Capp), San Francisco, CA 94103. October 4 –November 2, 2013.

CARRIE: The Musical gets new life by Ray of Light Theatre

There were ambivalent feelings expressed amongst some theatre critics about the new version of Carrie: The Musical at last night’s opening of Shocktoberfest where blood (and guts) littered the stage. They were expecting to see more blood flowing at tonight’s opening and all were anxious to see the reincarnation of the 1988 production labeled the worst musical ever and “New York Times critic Frank Rich likened to the Hindenburg disaster.” Surprise, surprise, the revamped, stripped down rewrite of Carrie was received with appreciative applause and a standing ovation.

Standing ovations are de rigor at Ray of Light (ROL) openings. They have a very dedicated loyal following since ROL consistently produce award winning shows with non-equity casts. For Carrie: The Musical they have rounded up a top-notch group with excellent singing voices and stage presence, a simplified staging relying on projections and lighting and a great director utilizing congruent choreography (Amanda Folena). The rather spectacular ending will have you jumping out of your seat.

This production can be considered a Chamber Musical consisting of part musical comedy and part opera. The story is based on the Stephen King novel that became a 1976 cult movie that was directed by Brian DePalma. For the record, a newer version will be hitting the screen this month.

Carrie (Cristina Ann Oeschger) is a shy introverted 17-year old High School student who does not fit in with any group and has a religious fanatic mother Margaret (Heather Orth) who has not taught her anything about becoming “a woman.” Carrie becomes terrified when she has her first menstrual period while taking a shower at school. Her ignorance is ridiculed and she shunned from the “in” group. When she discovers she has telekinetic powers (after all this sort of character is what made Stephen King famous), the final humiliating prank at the Senior Prom leads to catastrophic consequences.

The storyline is written in flash backs with the characters being interviewed by off-stage voices about “the incident.”  There is an attempt to add universality to the plot with the opening number of “In” where the student ensemble bemoan the fact that getting accepted into cliques is a major hurdle of growing up. Christine Ann Oeschger, who is a High School Junior, captures the audience with her first number “Carrie.” Heather Orth gives a magnificent performance with the operatic arias of “Eve Was Weak” and “Evening Prayers.” Her duets with Oeschger are mesmerizing and spine chilling.

Carrie’s nemesis Chris Hargensen (Riley Krull) gives added meaning to the word “bitch” often dominating the ensemble numbers with her presence. Among the “good guys” are students Tommy (Nitkita Burshteyn ), his girlfriend Sue (Courtney Merrell) and gym teacher Miss Gardner (Jessica Coker). Burshteyn’s full but soft tenor voice and disarming stage presence is a perfect match for the beautiful Merrell who radiates genuine compassion with her lines and soprano voice. Jessica Coker’s duet with Oeschger “Unsuspecting Hearts” is a gem.

Forget about most of the harsh criticism leveled at previous productions of this play and get your ticket for Ray of Light’s staging that captured the opening night audience and ended with memorable ‘bang’. Running time about 2 hours with an intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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