Let’s face it: A musical based on Stephen King’s novel “Carrie” just seems strange, which may explain why it did poorly on and off Broadway.
But the LSU Theatre production works, largely because it has a very good lead actress.
Abigail Tatum portrays Carrie White — a terribly insecure, picked-on high school student whose mother’s religious zealotry contributes to her isolation. Those who read the book or saw the 1976 movie know the story of how Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers, which are put to deadly use when she experiences her final humiliation. But Carrie goes through a lot before that.
And Tatum takes her believably through each emotional shift: fear, vulnerability, frustration, anger, confidence, joy and rage. Tatum does more with facial expressions than less capable actors do with their entire bodies and voices. Speaking of voice, Tatum has a good and versatile one. In some moments, she sings with pleasing tone, and otherwise gives Carrie a frightened, immature sound in keeping with her role in the play, which Tamara Fisch directs.
Her supporting cast also is strong. Sarah Fruge plays Sue Snell, a classmate who feels guilty over having joined other girls at mocking Carrie when she had her first menstrual period in the gym shower and panicked out of ignorance. Ultimately, that leads her to convince her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (played by Jacob Voisin) to take Carrie to the prom, thinking it will give her a rare chance at happiness. Their singing voices are up to the task and blend nicely in the second-act duet, “You Shine.” They are winsome as kids who are susceptible to peer pressure, but try to overcome it.
Such is not the case for Sue’s longtime friend, Chris Hargensen (Emily Heck). She doesn’t resist peer pressure. She defines peer pressure. Chris is the stereotypical mean and entitled teen rhymes-with-rich who eggs on the other girls to torment Carrie, throwing tampons at her when she has her period. It’s a fairly one-dimensional role, but Heck handles it well, both by herself and in tandem with Chris’ boyfriend, Billy Nolan (Alexander Adams), who is equally proud of his ignorance and meanness.
Even before Sue’s change of heart, Carrie has one ally, the gym teacher, Miss Gardner (played with tenderness by Genna Guidry), and they have a nice duet, “Two Unsuspecting Hearts.” But nothing can overcome problems at home.
Haley Schroeck’s most important job in portraying Carrie’s mom is to not let her be a caricature. Schroeck succeeds, making Margaret White as sympathetic a homicidal nut as one is likely to encounter. Schroeck also is a solid singer.
Nobody’s voice is a knockout in this production, but they’re up to the task, both in solos and in groups. There are some clever lyrics that explore the angst and fun of being a teen. Still, the singers could use a little less volume from the orchestra, which was loud enough to make a lot of words unintelligible in the choral numbers.
The theater does a clever job depicting the climactic scene without actually dropping stage blood that would have interfered with her microphone. Kenneth Ellis’ effective set allows quick transitions from the gym to Carrie’s home and back. Slightly longer than two yours, the play is time well spent.