Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Carla Cafolla

Madison Zehnder and Cast
Photo by Jason Ponic Photography
A musical isn't the first thing that springs to mind after reading Stephen King's debut novel "Carrie," published in 1974 when the author was only 26 years old. But in 1988, an adaption by Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the script for the film adaptation), with music and lyrics by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, respectively, opened on Broadway (after a run in in Stratford-upon-Avon, England) to a mixed reception, with exceptionally scathing media reviews. It closed three days later when the financial backers pulled their investments, thus making it one of, if not the most notable, flops in the history of Broadway. Curiously, Stephen King liked it, reputedly saying "I liked it a lot. In fact, I liked it for most of the reasons Frank Rich [the New York Times critic] did not".

Then, in the funny way the world often operates, Carrie was so bad, it reached iconic status in the following years as oftentimes "camp "parodies and send-ups. This led to renewed interest, and in 2012, two dozen years after it lost $8 million dollars, a revamped version, now geared toward teens and younger adults, received an Off-Broadway revival. This effort to resuscitate Carrie was somewhat successful, and despite the still somewhat mixed reviews, Carrie survived long enough to establish itself as a type of off-beat musical, now popular in an odd, quirky way.

The story hasn't changed; it's still about Carrie, a teenage girl, raised by her deranged religious-fanatical mother, outcast and reviled by her classmates. In true Stephen King fashion, and with more than a touch of Tarantino, the girl, having endured years of bullying, humiliation, and physical and emotional abuse from almost everyone she knows, discovers her power of telekinesis, and wreaks her terrible, bloody revenge.

So, already knowing the story, but still somewhat dubious as to the wisdom of experiencing a musical edition of a melodious, frolicking, murderous adolescent, I ventured out to see Musical Theatre Southwest's version of Carrie .

Director Lando Ruiz has done a great job with what he's been given. For the most part, the score is dreadful. Twenty minutes in I thought I was listening to a "Partridge Family" reunion. A few minutes later I revised that thought and decided Pitchford and Gore so disliked Stephen King they chose to damage their professional reputation rather than create a decent score.

One particular negative of the production is the sound levels, which are constantly and pointlessly loud–so much so that it is difficult, if not impossible most of the time to hear the lyrics. I know it's not Shakespeare, but at least let me catch what is going on. I realize the need to create mood and tension, but the point of priority is disappearing in the swamp of commotion.

But, other than that, I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Ruiz has wanted to do this show for years, and obviously put a lot of thought and consideration into its creation. He assembled a great cast, many of them new to the company, and they are a lovely bunch of enthusiastic kids, corralled by a trio of adults. So, between directorial vision, the very talented cast, and an exceptionally creative and imaginative crew, they do a truly smashing job, one that was vociferously appreciated by the entirely full house at the performance I attended.

The tale begins after PE class when the girls in the locker room are maliciously amused as Carrie, a beautifully cast Madison Rose Zehnder, rushes out panicked by the shock of her first menstrual cycle. Events reminiscent of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" ensue as ringleader Chris Hargensen, perfectly played by Nicole Erdman, encourages and/or shames the others into harassing Carrie. Only Sue Snell (thoughtfully played by Morgan Geddes) weakly objects, but even she ultimately follows the pack.

Carrie reaches out to her mother seeking comfort, but echoes of Bev Keane from Midnight Mass permeate Emily Melville's unhinged Margaret White. She passionately invokes the Lord, raging against her daughter's burgeoning maturity all while in the grip of feral religiosity. Then, with more than a pinch of maternal malice, she judges, then condemns, her daughter for being victimized. Yet even she is shown to be a sympathetic character as we learn where her motivations come from.

As the prom approaches, Sue asks her boyfriend to bring Carrie instead of her to atone for their former behavior. Tommy, nicely played by Devin Raymond, eventually agrees, and a lovely gentle scene follows as he asks a disbelieving Carrie twice before she believes he is sincere. Soon after, we see Carrie stand up to her mother, defying her, ignoring her pleas to not go to the prom, using her escalating powers as she becomes angry.

We witness Chris and her thuggish boyfriend Billy Nolan (Santiago Baca) set up a bucket of pig's blood in the gym's rafters, then, early in the prom, see how the all the teenagers conspire to elect an innocent Tommy and Carrie as prom King and Queen. When Sue peeks into the gymnasium and sees the prom in full swing, and Tommy and Carrie happy and involved, she leaves pleased and content she has done the right thing giving up her place to Carrie.

The finale is very well done. There are all kinds of splendid special effects evident throughout the production and the closing moments of the prom do not disappoint. A marvelously impaled Billy and an assortment of additional otherworldly influences feature prominently in the school massacre–even the matricide scene is first rate, and who doesn't love a good matricide scene?

A fog swirls around the stage as the show begins. It seems to open at the conclusion, when Sue, the only survivor, is interrogated by a panel of unseen judges. These judges could just as easily be celestial or mortal beings. What follows is Sue's recollection of the events leading up to the carnage.

The choreography by Delaney Carr (who also plays Helen Shyres) and Lando Ruiz is excellent and contributes greatly to our understanding and the ultimate success of this production. The atmosphere is established in an early scene in which Carrie is taunted and mocked. I couldn't shake the feeling I was witnessing the terror a gazelle or a deer must feel when surrounded by an ever-decreasing circle of hyenas. An agonizing moment.

It must have been so much fun working on this production, every tech and prop designer's dream. Hats off to all involved.

Carrie runs through October 23, 2022, at Musical Theater Southwest, 6320 - B Domingo NE, Albuquerque NM. Friday and Saturday evenings performances start at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. General Admission $25, Discount $23 (seniors, students, ATG/TLC members). MTS highly encourages the use of masks for all patrons. For tickets and information, please call 505-265-9119 or visit