This month, a spine-tingling reimagining of Stephen King’s first novel Carrie comes to downtown Santa Barbara in the form of “Carrie the Musical.” Presented by the local Out of the Box Theater Company, the award-winning 2012 Off-Broadway show is a modernized and richly improved revival of the 1988 Broadway flop. “Carrie the Musical” redefines the classic horror story of a telekinetic teenaged outcast, shy Carietta “Carrie” White, who comes to her own power in rebelling against her overprotective mother and paying bloody retribution upon her high school bullies.
More than bullying and pig’s blood, the Santa Barbara production of “Carrie the Musical” confronts serious present-day issues in an uncanny depiction of real life rather than the original Broadway exaggeration.
“We were aiming for realism. I wanted nothing campy,” Artistic Director Samantha Eve said.
Apart from the impressive and sometimes horrific visual effects of the show, the veristic professional acting of all 14 cast members contributed to the sublime experience of “Carrie the Musical.” In the challenging role of Carrie White, the sweet Julia Kupiec led the show, conveying the fatal conflict between fear and love with her clear, melodious tone reminiscent of the alto tragic heroine Eponine in “Les Misérables.”
Meanwhile, the supporting actors convincingly portrayed high school characters that constantly strive to fit in and rise above the awkwardness of their hormonal adolescence. With perfect pitch, innovative choreography and virtuosic embodiment of emotional transformation, the cast of “Carrie the Musical”pushed new energy into a timeless tale of growing up.
Terry Li, an alumna from UCSB with a B.A. in English and feminist studies, played the popular girl Norma, the crony of Carrie’s main antagonizer Chris Hargensen.
“[This production is] fresh, relevant, honest … and awesome. And I heard the cast members are really good,” Li joked.
“The ‘Carrie’ story is about a girl who wants nothing more than to feel a sense of belonging and understanding from her peers … That’s such a common experience, you know, that feeling of ‘I want people to understand me,’” Li said. “But then you throw in fucking telekinesis and that just changes the ballgame. So ‘Carrie’ is also about how the shifting of power can influence someone’s perception of themselves and … be really dangerous. [It’s] about the effects of bullying, how cruel people can be to each other … It’s essentially an allegory for all the kids today who are driven to dangerous depths.”
Li’s first impression of the musical was not quite so passionate.
“When I first heard about it, I went in with the same skepticism that everyone has. Like, ‘Carrie the Musical’ — that sounds kind of terrible! Knowing the story, the book, the movie and the kind of reputation it had, it seemed like it could be bad. But the musical is a totally different animal,” Li said.
Connor Gould, a third-year communication student at UCSB, plays one of Carrie’s tormenters, the popular guy Freddy. Like Li, Gould perceives the ‘Carrie’ story as a conflict between the power of the individual and the social community.
“It gives a voice to the people who may not be able to speak up and stand up for themselves in the face of harsh cruelty,” Gould said. “The writers play up all the violence and blood and carnage to dramatize the frustration and the rebellion of people who are trying to express themselves but can’t.”
He added that the dynamic of the characters is quite believable, saying that “you can almost pinpoint as someone you recognize from your high school.”
As for the music, the 14 cast members and the live band performed an assortment of different styles, from edgy rock anthems to the traditional classical musical genre to catchy pop songs to a religious ballad sung by Carrie’s mother.
Speaking as a musician and Broadway fan, Terry Li likened the mixed yet predominantly contemporary rock style of “Carrie the Musical” to other rock musicals such as “Rent,”“Spring Awakening,”“Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Reefer Madness.”
But why make the classic horror story into a musical? Connor Gould explained that adding music to this staged adaptation “makes it more pleasing to the eyes and ears.”
“It brings raw emotion to the show and gives a stronger connection to the story for the audience,” he said. “It’s intense, bloody and beautiful.”
“Carrie the Musical”will be playing this weekend from Thursday until Saturday each night at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. It’s performed at the Center Stage Theater downtown, where no seat is a bad seat. You can purchase tickets online now at www.centerstagetheater.tix.com and enjoy the student price of $15.
Photos Courtesy of Rob Grayson
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of the Thursday, November 14, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.