Theatre Alliance presenting near-cult classic ‘Carrie: The Musical’

Posted 10/19/14

Sitting across from one another in Camino Bakery on Fourth Street, they look like old friends. What they’ll look like come opening night at Theatre Alliance on Friday will be very different. For one, there’ll be blood between them.

In the musical, their interchange is not only intensely emotional, it gets physical. Very physical. The original opening of “Carrie” in 1988 on Broadway had been envisioned as a big, musical extravaganza, the next “Les Miserables.” Instead, it lasted only five shows, a disaster with many citing too much violence on one side or songs that were too long on the other.

Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (lyrics) and Lawrence D. Cohen (book) refined the show by cutting out some of the songs, cutting the length of other songs and writing new songs for a slightly more successful version in 2012.

While sweeter, it only lasted a little more than a month. But “Carrie” has endured away from Broadway — and is close to being a cult classic. It’s a special favorite around Halloween. If you know that it’s based on the Stephen King novel, “Carrie,” you know this won’t be a puppy dog and rainbow musical. It’s rated R with adult themes and language, plus, of course, violence.

“At one point she throws me across the stage,” said Pierce. “It’s probably the most physical role I’ll ever play. And that includes being a stripper in ‘The Great American Trailer Park Musical’ and dancing on a pole.”

The story is compelling. Carrie, 17, is being raised by a religious zealot. The first time the audience sees her mother, she’s knitting and singing along to gospel music on the radio. She’s repressive, violent and has convinced her daughter that whatever she does is bad and deserves punishment. Carrie is subdued, and she gets bullied a lot at school. Basically, if the mother is psychopathic, Carrie expresses no affect at all.

“At times it is horrifying, moving, touching and beautiful,” said Lawson. There’s also a strong anti-bullying message — and now that we live in an age of Facebook posts and 140-character Tweets, the show’s message about respect for other people seems even more fitting.

“I’m thrilled to be playing Margaret because of the challenges it presents,” Pierce said. “She’s very angry and you never know what she’s gonna be angry about.”

The focus of the musical is on Carrie — she’s awkward, but once she discovers she has telekinetic powers, she lets them loose on anyone in her path. “She’s very shut down,” Davis-Rowe said.

“She’s very meek, trying to not draw attention to herself because whenever she does, something bad happens. As the play goes along, she uses more and more of her powers and she begins to trust people a little bit. When she sings is when you see what the character wants to be.”

“Carrie” also provides a professional advantage for Davis-Rowe. “I’m a character actress. ‘Carrie’ makes me feel like I can play leads. Normally, I play the comic-relief person, so, ironically, playing this very mild, beige character has made me feel more confident.”

For Pierce, her role helps move the story: “I’m there to set the stage so the audience knows why Carrie is the way she is. I have the most powerful songs in the show.” One song, a ballad, is called “When There’s No One.” “It shows why Margaret is so lonely.” In all there are about 20 songs, plus dance numbers.

The show’s themes touch on mother-daughter relationships, rage, bullying, but also on some tender moments. Actually, it’s a play with heart: There’s one high school classmate in the show, for instance, who transforms from bullying to asking her boyfriend to escort Carrie to the prom. Lawson said, “I really want the show to be suspenseful and not dwell on the drama and be less about the mother and daughter.”

Davis-Rowe sums it up: “It’s a show with drama of Shakespearian proportions, then you have the big ole musical theater numbers, and then, buckets of blood.”

Davis-Rowe has another reason for being particularly drawn to the character of Carrie. On opening night in Raleigh last year, her now husband had sneaked in her parents and other friends from around the country for the show. When Davis-Rowe took her curtain call, he had also managed to sneak onto the stage as she bowed. He went to one knee and, right there, asked her to marry him. She did, they moved to Winston-Salem, and she gets to re-create her old friend Carrie another time, this time as an actress with a hyphenated last name.