Robin Stevens, a musical theatre and communication studies double major, portrays the titular character, Carrie. Photo courtesy of University Marketing & Communications
Reynolds was packed the weekend before Thanksgiving break with theater-goers excited to see the University of Montevallo’s fall musical “Carrie.” The musical is based off the Stephen King novel of the same name, with music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and book by Lawrence D. Cohen.
The show focuses on the two female leads; Carrie White (played by Robin Stevens) and Sue Snell (played by Kensley Sandlin). The girls’ paths are intertwined throughout the script, as the story is told through Sue’s memories of the weeks leading up to prom, demanded from her by two interrogators.
As Sue recounts the story of what happened leading up to the dance, the audience sees the events unfold in the opening number “In.” This whole-ensemble piece does the job of immediately sucking the audience into the show and showing off the many characters that litter the cast. You see Sue’s longtime boyfriend Tommy Ross (Alex Belli), her best friend and key instigator Chris Hargenseen (Cadley Jackson) and her older boyfriend Billy Nolan (Michael Loman). The scene goes on to show Carrie getting her first period and the other girls mocking her over it before Carrie is saved by her gym teacher Miss Gardner (Kodi-Mae McDearmont.)
The two storylines split from there, with Sue trying to reconcile with herself over their bullying of Carrie, and Carrie trying to reconcile with herself over her feelings of being an outcast and her newfound telekinetic abilities. The rest of the first act is dedicated to exploring these two distinct worlds – the bright and soft world of Sue versus the strict and grey world of Carrie. Both plots came together with the act one finale “Do Me A Favor/I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance.”
The show wastes no time in explaining what kind of experience it will be, from the swelling notes of “Who am I?” to the first angry guitar strum, you can feel the teenage angst rolling off it in waves.
Where some shows might find clichés in these moments, this production of “Carrie” seemed to find the humanity behind the horrors of high school life and bring hope to these dark moments. A notable example of this would be in the second number, simply titled “Carrie.” Actor Robin Stevens brought multiple layers of pride, hope and excitement to their solo – layers that were highly appreciated in what easily could be a monosyllabic role. Every time Stevens was on stage, I was swept away in their performance and even when they were on a bloody rampage, it was still a joy to watch.
Another performer that found nuance in her role was Kensley Sandlin as Sue Snell. Her version of Sue was not restricted to a guilty party, but she was also able to find the typical teenager in Sue, the one that wanted to ignore Carrie instead of make up with her.
The set design was an excellent complement to the story, as it was designed to mimic the innerworkings of the mind. During a talk-back session after Saturday night’s performance, set designer Kyle Moore explained his thought process behind the set, and described how it was covered with a mishmash of doors, shutters and shelves all designed to look like they could be or lead anywhere. This was to draw a parallel to the fact that the story is being relayed to us through Sue’s memories, according to Moore.
I couldn’t talk about “Carrie” without mentioning the work that went into making Carrie’s telekinesis come to life on stage. It was incredible to watch. The mix of special effects and choreography that went into selling the idea of these mythic powers was staggeringly genius.
Every single mark was hit perfectly, whether it was the shutters slamming in time with Stevens’ arm movements or the whole cast convulsing on stage in unison. It was the kind of perfection that is necessary to sell a show like “Carrie.” Not to mention the macabre and chaotic pigs’ blood scene. The lighting and use of fake blood to create a truly distressing environment was a special kind of brilliant that kept my attention long after that scene ended.
Knowing the history behind “Carrie: The Musical” (its struggles to find an audience in years past and the fact it was only off-Broadway for a month before closing) made me slightly hesitant to go see it, but it doesn’t have a cult following for nothing. Between the music, the technical design and the stellar cast it was definitely a show I would love to see again.