Carrie the Musical Creeps Into Boston (3.5 Stars)

Carrie the Musical based on the novel by Stephen King. Music by Michael Gore. Lyrics by Dean Pitchford. Book by Lawrence D. Cohen. Directed by Paul Melone. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through June 7.

The problem with making a musical of a film that most of us know the ending of is that you constantly live in dread of what’s to come. And unlike “Jesus Christ Superstar”, another show with an unhappy ending, “Carrie the Musical’ doesn’t have as memorable a score to lighten the load along the way.

That said, from the moment the talented young cast of “Carrie: The Musical” slams onstage as disgruntled high school students for “In”, the opening number, you know you’re in for some great performances.

For those of you who never saw the film – Carrie White is an unpopular high school student, the overprotected daughter of a religious single mother. Because Carrie doesn’t fit in, the other girls bully her mercilessly, despite the intervention of a kind gym teacher, Miss Gardner. When Sue Snell, another student, feels guilty about the way she and her friends have harassed Carrie, she makes her popular boyfriend Tommy ask Carrie to Prom. Chris Hargenson, Sue’s best friend, is infuriated by Sue’s gesture and makes a plan for revenge. The consequences are tragic.

There isn’t a single person in the cast who doesn’t have a terrific singing voice but Kerry Dowling, as Elizabeth White, knocks it out of the park. I remember Piper Laurie, in the film version, playing the role a little too maniacally. Dowling’s Elizabeth is still a religious zealot, but the love she has for her daughter shines through, making her character much easier to swallow. As Carrie, Elizabeth Erardi does a wonderful job at keeping herself psychically small, until the moment of reckoning with her mother when she suddenly dominates. Her voice is both sweet and powerful throughout. Paige Berkovitz, as Chris, is just about the meanest mean girl I’ve ever seen onstage (thankfully, she looks like a very nice young woman from her headshot). Phil Tayler who plays Billy Nolan, Chris’s boyfriend, is also disturbingly evil with a tensile agility. As Tommy. Joe Longthorne has the right amount of jock and nice guy. And Sarah Drake as Sue Snell, brings the right mixture of terror, self-confidence and vulnerability to the role.

The set, ingeniously designed by Eric Levenson, is versatile enough to be the perfect recreation of a high school locker room gymnasium, classroom and hallway as well as Carrie’s mother’s house. Jeff Adelberg’s excellent lighting design manages to shift the mood from romantic to grim to terrifying.

The production itself is first rate – I just wish the performers had better material to work with. At the end of the show the only feeling this audience member was left with was “Why?” And not as in “Why did Carrie do this?” but ‘Why write a musical based on this particular horror movie?” It didn’t really have a message or even camp value. It just left me feeling creeped out and a little empty. For more info, go to: