Minneapolis Musical Theatre opened its season Friday night at the New Century Theatre, with the regional premiere of “Carrie The Musical,” an adaptation of the Stephen King novel. I worried that the production might be too camp, because artistic director Steven Meerdink is a master of camp. But this is his most serious work in years. He turns the horror story into a genuine tragedy.
The original 1988 production was one of the most notorious Broadway flops of all time, even with its strong pedigree: a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the 1986 Brian De Palma film, and music and lyrics by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, who won Academy Awards for the movie “Fame.”
The original authors re-imagined the story for a successful 2012 revival. It’s now a sharp show with catchy tunes that is grounded in a realistic portrayal of high-school angst.
Meerdink gives the show a contemporary relevance by focusing on the elements of bullying in the story. He is so effective that there were moments when I had knots in my stomach at the abuse heaped on the poor misfit, Carrie White.
Jill Iverson gives the evening its heart with her affecting portrayal of Carrie. It is deeply moving to watch as this fragile, terrified young woman truly blossoms and finds her strength after being asked to the prom. Her strong voice makes the most of the songs that charted her growth, from plaintive ballads to joyful up-tempo anthems.
Equally successful is Lori Maxwell as Carrie’s fundamentalist Christian mother. Maxwell doesn’t play the character as psychotic, but as a loving mother, whose fear and shame twist her religion into rage. It becomes her tragedy as well.
The rest of the young cast makes for a strong ensemble. Rebecca Gebhart shines as the quintessential mean girl. Natalie Schleusner and Philip C. Matthews are equally effective as the two students who show compassion for Carrie.
Mention must also be made of Darren T. Hensel’s set, which adds to the creepiness of the production.
The special effects of the prom scene might have come off as anticlimactic if it weren’t for the intensity of Iverson’s performance. She brings the evening to a terrifying and horrific end.
William Randall Beard writes about theater and music.