Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton as Carrie and Margaret White in Carrie The Musical, directed by Brady Schwind, at La Mirada Theatre.
Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton as Carrie and Margaret White in Carrie The Musical, directed by Brady Schwind, at La Mirada Theatre.
(© Jason Niedle)

Few musicals are as infamous as the 1988 Broadway bomb Carrie. That notoriety was enhanced by the bootlegged CDs and videotapes of the original cast that made the rounds for years in the days before YouTube. Utilizing the major rewrite for the 2012 off-Broadway production, La Mirada Theatre performs the show for its intimate "On Stage" series where audiences sit on the stage in bleachers, making them practically players in the proceedings.

Following both the famous Stephen King book and Brian De Palma movie, Carrie The Musical follows a poor, undervalued girl (Emily Lopez), who's taunted and bullied by her schoolmates. A festering anger and an awareness of her telekinetic abilities turn her into a powder keg with destructive potential. Several mean schoolmates launch a vicious attack on her at the prom, not realizing they have lit the fuse.

Like the TV remake, the film sequel, and the 2013 movie remake with Julianne Moore, Carrie The Musical verges on irrelevance. The songs aren't vital to the storytelling, nor does the story have the intensity or terror of either the book or the 1976 film, which starred Sissy Spacek. Yet the cast and crew at La Mirada ignore these shortcomings and put together a thrill ride that translates into the musical version of a haunted house.

Director Brady Schwind immediately plunges the audience into the experience having them weave through the maze backstage, navigate past overturned desks baring bullying scribblings like "Carrie White Eats Sh*t," frightening sounds, and lighting one would find in a spook house. Some of the audience sit on bleachers, the others on manually rotating platforms that are spun around throughout the show. Effectively, at one point, the cast drags the audience-filled platforms to the protagonist's lap, making it feel (and appear) as if Carrie is being engulfed by bullies.

The score by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford contains some admirable songs, particularly the duets between Carrie and her religious fanatical mother (Misty Cotton) like "Open Your Heart" and "Stay Here Instead." The opening number "In" carries insights into the confusion and melancholy many high school students feel, even the popular ones. But most of the tunes are early '80s soft rock that neither entrances the ear nor provokes the mind.

The libretto by Lawrence D. Cohen culls much of the dialogue from his own script for the '76 film, but it lacks the movie's suspense. Several changes, including the buildup to the prom disaster and the bloody aftermath, dispel the dread. The prom attack, so precisely choreographed in the movie, feels haphazard to the point that it is unclear what exactly is happening; therefore, when major characters die, even those that audiences are meant to like, it is difficult to sympathize.

Schwind fosters a cast of young talents led by Lopez, whose powerful voice and emotion make her heartbreaking as Carrie. Her metamorphosis in Act 2 into the blushing prom queen is tender, resulting in her final betrayal being sadder. As the nutty Margaret White, Cotton is rigid and cruel but still reveals a love for her daughter, no matter how misguided she projects it. Lopez and Cotton's duets are the play's best moments.

Kayla Parker and Jon Robert Hall, as the innocents who unwittingly propel the horror at the prom, have palpable chemistry together. As the evil kids, Valerie Rose Curiel, Garrett Marshall, and Rachel Farr are deviant in their malice, but never one-dimensional. Like all the kids, they reveal a side of insecurity and pain that unleashes their misdeeds.

Lee Martino's choreography reflects how teens dance today, grounding the more fantastical elements of the story. Adriana Lambarri's costumes for Carrie illustrate both her awkwardness in the hodgepodge of materials she wears in Act 1 and her Cinderella-like evolution at the prom. Paul Rubin's stunt coordination and Jim Steinmeyer's illusions add to the thrills by causing objects to move and people to levitate and fly across the room.

Carrie The Musical is one of those shows, like Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along or Schwartz's The Baker's Wife, that directors believe they can fix. The difference is that Sondheim and Schwartz's scores offer more insight into larger, more universal themes. Carrie lacks a captivating score and book. However, the spirited performances, inventive staging, and magical tricks at La Mirada delightfully fill the void. This production of Carrie is a scream.