Majestic Repertory patches together a winning ‘Carrie’ despite a losing score

Arianna Mercy’s Carrie (right) and her mother, played by Annette Houlihan Verdolino.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Three stars

Carrie the Musical Through May 28, Thursday-Sunday, times vary, $27. Alios, 702-423-6366.

Pay ’em props for their, let’s say, testicular fortitude—tackling a mega-bomb so flop-tastic (a five-show run in 1988) that it headlined a book on epic Broadway wrecks. Attempting Majestic Repertory Theatre’s new take on a recent, more respectable LA restaging of Carrie the Musical is, director Troy Heard admits, “tilting at windmills.”

Despite the odds, this young cast’s spirited commitment to this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (and two flicks) about the telekinetic outcast, compensates just enough for the score of generic rockers, indistinguishable power ballads and musical doodles posing as meaningful expressions of emotion. More you can’t ask of a musical bereft of musical soul. (Find lessons for scoring vengeful thrillers in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Assassins.)

Unspooling the story of teenage torment (when bullying was face to face, not Facebook to Facebook), Heard effectively deploys actors through aisles and around a thrust stage to connect the audience to the action, mounting an intimate show that gallops despite its melodic obstacles.

Central to this unlikely triumph is Arianna Mercy’s lead performance—all head-bowed, rag-doll slouch, lifeless brunette mop and wounded-sparrow sadness as she’s mercilessly mocked. Yet when she lightens at being asked out to, and primping for, the doomed prom, your heart brightens—and breaks for what’s coming. Silent looks and body language sell it, but this compact actress shocks when she sings, unleashing startling power pipes. Though it’s potentially cheesy, she finds the eeriness in Carrie’s discovery of telekinetic abilities.

Support is uniformly strong. Strutting (and slutting) around, Mary Rose Stark defines blonde-bombshell-queen-bitchiness as harasser-in-chief, while Annabella Hunt radiates empathy (and recounts the story in haunted flashback) as Carrie’s classmate, earnestly asking, “What does it cost to be kind?” Also notable are Stephanie Miller Claydon as a sympathetic gym teacher, RJ Viray as Carrie’s pretend prom date, Joey Derby as a braying bully and Almog Aybar Agron as a mean-girl sidekick.

Lone Equity performer Annette Houlihan Verdolino is creepy-scary as Carrie’s religio-lunatic mama, who beats and burns her daughter for the sin of menstruating but also touches the heart singing, “When There’s No One,” the only affecting number.

Crosscurrents of light and sound effects render the cascade of climaxes—the pig’s-blood bucket dump on Carrie, her telekinetic revenge and death embrace with Mama—reasonably realistic. Majestic’s Carrie cast unearths humanity and emotional colors this score wouldn’t recognize if Sondheim himself bit it in the ass.

Tags: Theater

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