A new take on Stephen King’s classic horror film Carrie

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Stephen King’s classic horror film Carrie, is probably one of the top films I could never imagine adapted into musical format. How could a film that is so un-musical and depressing have singing, which I imagined making it feel happy and cheerful? Going in, I was most intrigued to see what specific scenes they would choose to add songs to. Knowing the film like the back of my hand, I told myself not to hold any expectations because I knew whatever I was about to see would be a brand new experience. It became one that blew me away.

In the beginning, the audience is asked to go into the show with an open mind toward how the production decided to evolve the story. I spoke with Damon J. Gillespie after the show who played Freddie, one of the popular jocks who teased Carrie, and asked him what he wanted audiences to know going into this. Ultimately, he wants people to remember that this is a Stephen King story, and where there is Stephen King, there is always an element of weird.

“Because this play is adapted from a Stephen King story, I want people to keep that in mind and expect the absurd,” Gillespie says. But really, this play wasn’t absurd at all. Maybe just a smidge in the moments it channeled High School Musical a la singing about the anticipation of prom (Gillespie does have a stunning resemblance to Corbin Bleu), but because this adaptation took place in modern time, it all worked. It was not ridiculous; it was relevant.

In the disturbing intro scene when we are first introduced to awkward Carrie while she is being bullied in the locker room, girls are snapping photos with their cell phones and afterward someone sneers, “Oh my God, someone already posted it!” Although there is no specific reference, most of our minds probably went to Facebook. This version of Carrie introduces a new element of bullying that did not exist back in 1976 when the film was made. There was not the ability to publicly humiliate people on social platforms, let alone being able to do it within minutes after an in-person attack. The incorporation of cell phones and social media reflects the changes in social relationships and interactions amongst youth. It shows how much easier it is to hurt people.

The performers and production team of Bailiwick Chicago nailed the revival of the 2012 off Broadway version of this play, with radiant young artists who clearly gave their all in this performance. Callie Johnson was meant to play Carrie White; her eyes glistened the entire performance with the constant fear the real Carrie possesses, but Johnson brought a new voice and confidence to Carrie we do not hear in the film.

The play allowed for more insight into other characters’ thoughts because with a 3D platform and added depth perception, the audience experiences more at once than a still frame a camera can offer. More internal thoughts and reflection were shared from otherwise shallow characters. It made everything more relatable. Whether you are only a few years out of high school or have already gone to your 10-20 year reunion, there is something everyone could connect to in this.

The entire group had wonderful chemistry with clean, in-sync routines. It was clear the performers were truly enjoying themselves and allowing their role to engulf them. From the opening scene until the last stage light shut off, I sat there in awe of the singing ability and range they possessed. I am going to go ahead and use the word perfect because every voice was smooth and loud with no stumbles or shakes. They made it look too easy.

It is no wonder Damon J. Gillespie was accepted into Broadway to perform in the production Newsies. Last night was his last performance in Carrie as Freddie, and today he hops on a plane to New York to begin rehearsing for his new role. Gillespie is definitely a talent on the rise to keep an eye on.

Two other performers who stole the show in their own way are Samantha Dubina, playing sassy queen bee Chris, and Rochelle Therrien, who captured me from the get-go as soft-spoken Sue. These women complement each other on stage with Dubina encompassing the blonde rambunctious teenager whose social life and popularity are everything. Her voice boomed with a deeper tone, while Therrien, an innocent looking brunette, sang with a high angelic voice reflecting the voice of reason. I was most impressed with Therrien’s volume control while performing; her transitions ran smooth like honey, never breaking the notes.

Despite my admiration for all the talent put on display, I found myself briefly disappointed by how the changes affected some of the original components of the story that made it stand out. (Spoiler alert!) Because the play took on such a bullying theme, the reason why Carrie is a horror film got lost. There are plenty of stories of mean girls, but Carrie was unique and scary because of her powers and her overbearingly religious and abusive mother. These elements were too toned down which had the potential to make certain scenes confusing for people who do not know the story already.

Without my previous knowledge, I would have barely been able to tell Carrie was developing a mental power. The relationship between her and her mother was also too loving, making the attempted murder scene between them a little awkward and unexpected. As much as these were important elements of the film that made Carrie what it is, the amazing talent and passion of the performers made up for it in every way; my disappointment was only a mere brush, and I left the show astonished and almost too tongue-tied to approach any of them.

Anyone who goes to see this show should definitely keep an open mind and see it as a new story with a different message than the original. When I spoke with Gillespie he urged how important it was to humanize the characters and put them on a relatable level. His ice-blue eyes were very reassuring when he said, “When you see the actors and their performance, you understand what they are trying to do with this play.”

Not only did I understand, but I applaud them all for pulling it off flawlessly. They made me laugh, they wowed me, and I left with a deep admiration for artists who lose themselves and transform on stage. Bailiwick Chicago brings their best to the revived off Broadway production of Carrie.

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