There are many surprising things about North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatres production of Carrie: surprising that a musical based on Stephen Kings book could be so involving; that a storefront community theater could stage it with such aplomb; that the large cast could be so uniformly skilled.
Kings 1974 novel and the 1976 movie about the bullied high school girl getting revenge through telekinetic powers are well known. But few know the 1988 musical, a notorious Broadway flop that emphasized technical display, giant production numbers and campy gore.
In 2012, composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and scriptwriter Lawrence D. Cohen gave Carrie a major revamp, making it smaller and more serious, the horror elements de-emphasized in favor of compelling examinations of peer pressure, parent-child relationships and the search for love.
Director James Ilsleys confident vision is evident throughout this production. He and technical directors Elaine and David Petrone have created a simple but clever high school gym that doubles for classrooms and Carries house. The team provides ample special effects (things float and explode) along with impressive projections and dramatic lighting, culminating in a satisfying depiction of the blood-soaked prom.
Eighteen cast members display remarkable focus and talent. Ann Davis makes an appropriately awkward, naïve Carrie, her intense singing indicating Carries otherness. Sandi Sullivan frightens as Carries devoutly religious, devotedly loving mother, Margaret, her emotional solo, When Theres No One, a production highlight.
Mary Reilly gives Carries classmate Sue depth of character as she rejects her initial tormenting of Carrie. Reilly works well with Peter ONeal as Sues boyfriend Tommy, their several solos and duets warmly appealing. Lori Ingle Taylor, as chief bully Chris, makes the character despicable while inviting understanding for such typical behavior, as does Brian Westbrooks Billy, Chriss boyfriend.
Music director Craig Johnsons piped-in orchestra keeps the music nicely contained under the singers, who perform without body mikes, a rare and welcome circumstance. The songs quirky rhythms and unexpected directions are challenging but successfully negotiated most of the time.
The script has more raw language than necessary and some songs slow the pace repeating whats already been established. But the production is engaging and moving, a tribute to this plucky community theaters new management and mission.