Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: CARRIE The Killer Musical Experience - Still Killing It at the Los Angeles Theatre

Emily Lopez as Carrie White. All photos by Jason Niedle

Where you sit will make a big difference in the kind of experience you will have at Carrie the Killer Musical Experience. Aptly renamed from its earlier revival at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts where it was known as Carrie the Musical, it has now been adapted for a larger space with added seats and a pre-show opportunity to wander the historic Los Angeles Theatre for spooky photo ops in various locations extracted from the show. The shower stall with blood-stained graffiti, a distressed locker room, and deserted prom auditorium with remnants of decorations all add to the creep factor of staging a horror musical in a worn, but still stunning, 1930s movie palace. You can almost feel the ghosts peering out of the corners.

Much like it was configured at La Mirada, the audience is seated on bleacher-style benches that surround the stage on three sides. Four pods of movable bleachers at the front of those sections rotate in various ways throughout the performance giving audience members the intimate immersive experience everyone is raving about. And it’s true. While the seats are pricey, they are entirely worth it for how involved you’ll be with the characters. It’s always the experience you remember later anyway, not the souvenirs or things that end up shoved into a drawer.

We go to the theater to have an experience. THIS is the Los Angeles theatre experience of a lifetime. 

Misty Cotton and Emily Lopez

Sit here and you’ll feel Carrie’s pain and embarrassment as your own. You’ll feel how Chris’s atrocious behavior will make your blood boil. And you’ll feel the dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter with a horror that sits in the pit of your stomach.

By contrast, the stationary bleachers do not allow you to feel like part of the experience in the same way. If you sit in the first two rows of the side sections you’ll have sight line issues and won’t be able to see over the pods when they close in on the actors in several critical scenes, including the opening shower scene. (Plus, on the house left section you’ll have to contend with generator noise). Choose seats higher up on the sides or anywhere in the middle section for a better overall view.

This is also one show for which youll want to arrive early because that’s where you’ll get the other half of the immersive experience. Wandering around the Los Angeles Theatre is one of the great perks of buying a ticket. Plus, you’ll be part of history. This is the first time a live theatre production has been staged in what was once a lavish film venue that premiered the likes of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. It’s creepy and wonderful, unsettling and fantastic, just like Carrie.

The well-cast ensemble – most of them returning from the La Mirada production – continues to throw everything they have into their performances. Emily Lopez’s (Carrie) evolution from mousy outcast to winsome prom queen to raging retaliator has grown and expanded much like the production itself, and Misty Cotton, as her mother Margaret, owns every inch of that 499 seat theater. Alone on the stage singing “When There’s No One,” she focuses enough energy in the intense stillness to compel every eye with only the sound of her voice, and she holds it for an entire song. I dare you to look away.

In expanding the production for the larger space, director Brady Schwind has added effects, enhanced the supernatural element, and continued to evolve its many moving parts. Since this was not my first experience with Carrie, some of the audacious staging didn’t have the same element of surprise as it did initially, but no matter. The work is still astonishing and, if this is your first time seeing Carrie, you’ll be blown away.

Even the design team has moved in to the Los Angeles Theatre and adapted to the unusual space with considerable ingenuity (Stephen Giffordscenic design, Cricket S. Myers - sound design, Jim Steinmeyer - illusions, Paul Ruben - flying sequences, Adriana Lambarri - costumes and Brian Gale - lighting & projections).

In fact, Gale’s lighting reveal in the second Act is the stunner of the night. Capitalizing on the theater’s cavernous upper reaches, he spills glitter ball splendor over the entire audience in a single breathtaking moment. It caught me completely off guard and was absolutely stunning. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

As for the rest, my previous review still applies so I have included it below the photos. There’s nothing else to say but go!

Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton

Garrett Marshall and Valerie Rose Curiel

The Company of CARRIE the Musical

Jon Robert Hall (center) and Kayla Parker (balcony)

CARRIE the Killer Musical Experience
October 1 - November 22, 2015
Los Angeles Theatre

615 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Tickets: (888) 596-1027 or

Thursday, March 19, 2015
Review: Third Time's a Charm for CARRIE THE MUSICAL

Twice before, producers have attempted to bring Stephen King’s horror novel, Carrie, to the stage but were met with less than positive results. The musical’s first U.S. production played an embarrassing16 previews and 5 performances on Broadway before it was shuttered and a 2012 revival Off-Broadway closed early after only a month of performances and disappointing sales.

But, as they say, third time’s a charm, and director Brady Schwind’s immersive vision of Lawrence D. Cohen (book), Dean Pitchford (lyrics), and Michael Gore’s (music) musical has resurrected this phoenix from the dead in a way that will thrill audiences and finally give it the life the creators always hoped it would have. Yes, in La Mirada Theatre’s production, blood drops, Jesus flies, and an electric cast brings the fires of hell to life in an unforgettable intimately experiential setting.You’ll be sorry if you miss it so get your tickets now.

That setting (creatively envisioned by Stephen Gifford) is one in which the audience is placed on stage right up against the action. There are stationary bleacher units as well as movable pods that continually revolve to create a changeable playing area. We were seated in one of the four moving sections that put us very close to the actors and I highly suggest choosing those if you can. (They are the red A Level sections when you go to buy tickets). They give you a unique perspective on the story, especially when the space closes in around the students in an almost stifling way.

You’re there in the shower with Carrie huddled naked on the floor, and you’re there in the gym when Chris refuses to apologize for her actions. You can feel the slap before Margaret throws her daughter in the closet, and when Carrie begins to experiment with her telekinetic abilities, you can feel the power surge in the shadowy room. Gifford’s a problem-solver from the word go and this show certainly presented logistical challenges. His big reveal at the prom is so effective the audience around me gasped.

It’s also a brave production, thanks to the glorious debut performance of Emily Lopez as Carrie and that of music theatre veteran Misty Cotton as her mother, Margaret. Neither one shies away from the vulnerability required of them, nor do they tiptoe around their dysfunctional relationship. Lopez has a lovely lyrical singing voice and a naïve subtlety that works beautifully for her socially disadvantaged character while Cotton poignantly reveals the obsessions of a bible-thumping mother deathly afraid of being alone. Few can do a song like “When There’s No One” true justice and Cotton’s tour de force performance turns it into a visceral showstopper.

Kayla Parker, excellent as good girl Sue Snell, narrates the events leading up to the fatal prom and realizes too late that “Once You See” you can never un-see what your actions have done. A brash Valerie Rose Curiel leads the charge for revenge as the vicious Chris whose taunts show how damaging bullying can be (and how damaged many teens really are). Her motto is to strike first before you’re struck and with her jerk of a boyfriend Billy in tow (played by a physically intimidating Garrett Marshall) she plots her payback. Jenelle Lynn Randall nails the humor and attitude of PE teacher Miss Gardner.

Vibrant choreography by Lee Martino captures the angst of youth with its percussive moves and sharp energy. Musically the production has real impact due to the way music director Brian P. Kennedy matches the specificity of a character’s personality to his or her musical style. Miniature speakers mounted in front of the movable audience pods are a great solution to making the sound work and designer Cricket Myers also pulls a few surprises out of her bag of tricks to accompany the special effects designed by illusionist Jim Steinmeyer and Paul Rubin (responsible for the flying sequences).

From the cast to the creative team to the cult status previously established, this is a show with so much going for it yet its success really begins and ends with the director. Were it not for Brady Schwind and his vision, this wouldn’t be nearly the exciting event that it is and colleagues from around the country wouldn’t be calling and emailing me to see what it was like. I kid you not – this IS an event…and the rest of the country wants it. If you’re in LA, get in on it now.

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