Review: Carrie the Musical (Bailiwick Chicago)

| June 2, 2014
Callie Johnson stars as Carrie in Bailiwick Chicago's "Carrie the Musical" by Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford and Lawrence D. Cohen, directed by Michael Driscoll. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
Carrie the Musical

By Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (lyrics),
    and Lawrence D. Cohen (book) 
Directed by Michael Driscoll
at VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru July 12   |  tickets: $40   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
                   Read review


The sweet, melodic sound of teenage revenge


Callie Johnson stars as Carrie in Bailiwick Chicago's "Carrie the Musical" by Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford and Lawrence D. Cohen, directed by Michael Driscoll. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Bailiwick Chicago presents
Carrie: The Musical

Review by Lawrence Bommer

Stephen King fans treasure this tale of terror—the master’s first published novel—mainly for its retroactive revenge against the evils of high school bullies. Carrie: The Musical strikes back–as countless nerds, sissies and plain Janes could not–against all the bastards and mean girls who never met a geek they wouldn’t beat: Worse, they never knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of fists and feet.

Both film versions honor the novel’s toxic recreation of a nasty-minded, soul-shrinking, cruel-hearted high school from hell (actually Chamberlain, Maine) where mousy Carrie White, the ultimate victim (except that she’s got telekinetic powers), gets pranked at her Prom—and gets even on the spot.

Sissie Spacek and Chloe Grace Moretz (both too pretty for the part) have assumed the role in film adaptations a generation apart (1976 and 2013), both rich with special effects and vicious close-camera work. (Brian De Palma loves his gratuitous violence!) The first stage treatment of the novel, however, became an overnight disaster—the classic Broadway flop to, alas, not end Broadway flops. In this rendition, Bailiwick Chicago delivers the supposedly revised 2012 off-Broadway version, its book by original screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and a serviceable but not memorable score by lyricist Dean Pitchford and composer Michael Gore.

Katherine L. Condit and Callie Johnson star as Margaret and Carrie White in Bailiwick Chicago's "Carrie the Musical" by Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford and Lawrence D. Cohen, directed by Michael Driscoll. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

The story, of course, is not subtle. And it would be wrong to “fix” what wasn’t broken. Cohen rightly sticks to the formula that makes us care about Carrie: It’s told in excerpts from Sue’s deposition at a post-prom police inquiry. A dangerously underestimated, fatally insecure ugly girl, Carrie White is a virtual prisoner in the home of her mad mother Margaret. A seriously crazed religious nutcase, this demented fundamentalist fruitcake loathes sex–and her daughter too, for providing living proof that she once had sex. Carrie is equally persecuted at school where her first period (menstruation, not class) goes terribly wrong (the first of several seminal references to blood). Hapless counselor Miss Gardner intervenes after Carrie is You-Tubed bleeding in the shower stall (“Plug it up!”), her vicious nemesis bad girl Chris egging on the popular tormentors.

Only sweet Sue and her hot and hunky boyfriend Tommy take conditional pity on Carrie. Goaded by guilt, Sue makes the tragic mistake of asking cutie Tommy to invite Carrie to the prom, not her (for Carrie, a dream come true). Be careful what you wish for, Carrie discovers, as in an engineered vote she and Tommy are named Prom King and Queen. Sadly, Carrie isn’t even queen for a day, just a matter of minutes. She has a date with some pig’s blood. The rest is Carrie’s payback, which, of course, includes skewering her mental mother with assorted knives (alas, only in the novel and films, not here). As a kind of twisted homage to her mother, Carrie creates her own fire and brimstone.

Happily free of any demeaning camp, the well-meaning, impeccably produced musical mistakenly adds songs that both belabor what was instantly obvious in the film and delay and slow down the all-important action. But these well-rendered ballads and choruses also help us to experience Carrie’s isolation and growing awareness of life’s unfairness (“Why Not Me?”) as well as the mother’s equal but opposite loneliness (“When There’s No One”). An almost saintly Carrie briefly steps outside of her many miseries to hope that the prom is successful even if she never goes.

As daughter and mother respectively, Callie Johnson and Katherine L. Condit both look and live the parts. It’s not that they deserve each other but it’s hard to imagine one extreme without the other (however much Carrie’s powers trade on an audience’s wishful thinking). Hater Margaret even gets a bittersweet memory in “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance.”

Kate Garassino is sadly clueless as well-intentioned Miss Gardiner (tender in her “Unsuspecting Hearts” duet with Carrie). Rochelle Therrien and Henry McGinness could easily pass for popular as Sue and Tommy, but they hold out hope that recent mass murderer Elliott Rodgers never imagined—that people can be beautiful within as well as without. (Alas, the NRA gave the Santa Barbara slaughterer his version of telekinesis…) The teen twosome celebrate their goodness in “You Shine,” the show’s only happy love ballad. In the thankless task of bitchy Chris, Samantha Dubina gives the Lohan lady, as well as Shannon Doherty, a run for her mean money. With no air conditioning on opening night, the ensemble deserve extra praise for funkily executing Brigitte Ditmars’ downhome choreography.

The set, by Stephen H. Carmody, consists of cluttered sports lockers that sort of descend for the cataclysm/firestorm/meltdown at the gym. But that, of course, brings up a crucial question: Does Carrie works because of the novel and films’ special effects or because the semi-therapeutic plot delivers a special vengeance against the assorted wrongs committed by young people between 14 and 18? I fear that it’s the former power that’s kept this story so sensational when other works with less staying-power simply commented on high school’s horrors.

No way can a stage show capture the carnage or suggest mind over matter–but to its credit Carrie does seek to understand the underlying pains of puberty much more than the films had time for. For that alone, Bailiwick’s summer show may be worth a visit to Lincoln Park.

Rating: ★★★

Carrie: The Musical continues through July 12th at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 6pm.  Tickets are $40, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission. Recommended for ages 13+)

. Henry McGinniss, Rochelle Therrien and Callie Johnson in Bailiwick Chicago's "Carrie the Musical" by Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford and Lawrence D. Cohen, directed by Michael Driscoll. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Samantha Dubina (Chris), Kate Garassino (Ms. Gardner), Ryan Lanning (Mr. Stephens, Reverend Bliss), Kasey Alfonso (Norma), Molly Coleman (Frieda), Katherine L. Condit (Margaret White), Damon J. Gillespie (Freddy, May 29 – June 1), Callie Johnson (Carrie), Kelly Anne Krauter (Helen), Jon Martinez (Freddy, beginning June 5), Henry McGinniss (Tommy), Conner Meinhart (George), Sawyer Smith (Billy), Rochelle Therrien (Sue), George Toles (Stokes).

behind the scenes

Michael Driscoll (director), Aaron Benham (music director), Brigitte Ditmars (choreography), Stephen H. Carmody (scenic designer), Raquel Adorno (costume designer), Charles Cooper (lighting designer), Patrick Bley (sound designer), Christopher Kristant (technical director) Heather Stuck (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)


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Category: 2014 Reviews, Bailiwick Chicago, Lawrence Bommer, Musical, Richard Christiansen Theatre

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