Review: Rowan Theatre’s “Carrie: The Musical” brings theater season to a bloody and brilliant close

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Rowan University’s Department of Theatre and Dance finished out its “Season of Horror” theme this past week with a production of “Carrie: The Musical.” The show is based off of Stephen King’s breakout novel of the same name and was staged in Tohill Theater from April 6-9 with a special one-night encore on April 12.

Going in, I was a bit unsure of what to expect. Even Chris Roche, the musical’s director at Rowan, noted that the show’s original run on Broadway in the 1980s did not receive favorable reviews.

But as I sat in the theater and heard the cast and musicians go to work, I was transfixed. Almost every choice that was made positively impacted the performance.

First and foremost, we have to address the leading actress Meagen Cutting.

She was cast in the titular role of telekinetic loner Carrie White, and her powerful vocals brought a new dimension to the character she was portraying. People in the audience clearly understood the character’s desire to fit in with all the other popular girls in school.

Of course, every good story needs an antagonist, and this production found it in Vanessa Vause’s smooth-talking and cocky villain Chris Hargensen. She is the one who eventually makes the fatal mistake of dumping a bucket of blood on Carrie after being barred from prom for bullying her. I felt that Vause brought two key aspects to the role.

The first was a belief that everything would go her way in life because of mommy and daddy’s money, and the second and perhaps more subtle side to the character was her vulnerability, which shows just briefly for a few seconds in the musical number “The World According To Chris.” Personally, I felt like it worked, as almost every bully lashes out from a place of insecurity about his or her own flaws.

The final main cast member to note was Darby Pumphrey, who played the role of Sue Snell. It is Pumphrey’s character that first talks to the audience, and from time to time as the plot moves forward, she acts as a narrator of sorts, letting us know exactly how we got to the point where local police were investigating the site of a high school prom turned supernatural massacre.

Pumphrey brought a tangible remorse to the role, and made it feel as if Snell was working through issues of survivor’s guilt as well, adding to an already excellent set of performances from both the main cast and ensemble.

The other major positive for me was the set. Although relatively sparse, it worked when it needed to. In order to showcase a variety of different locations, Carrie’s house was depicted on the side of the stage through just a few props, including some kitchen appliances and a table. When in use, that portion of the set was illuminated, and when the action returned to the school, it was in the background, entirely unobtrusive. The design of the overall stage worked well, as it felt like a gymnasium, a classroom, a hallway and the scene of Carrie’s telekinetic rampage.

As far as minor changes go, I might have perhaps cut one or two songs from the production in favor of more spoken dialogue if I had written the lyrics for the show, but that’s not taking anything away from Rowan’s production of this musical.

To sum it all up, this was an enjoyable night out, and a great job by all involved in the production of “Carrie: The Musical.”

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