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Center Stage

Soul-searching, by way of songs and scares

10/8/2014

“Carrie: The Musical.” StageWest. Kum & Go Theater, Des Moines Social Club. Oct. 10-26, Shows Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.

“Carrie: The Musical.” StageWest. Kum & Go Theater, Des Moines Social Club. Oct. 10-26, Shows Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.

Just before one of the last rehearsals for “Carrie: The Musical,” two of the leads treated everyone to a few bars of lovely harmony. This, too, was rehearsal, of course, one more run-through of a tricky duet between Carrie and her mother. Still, it turned heads, a soaring passage shared over the keyboards by the high-schooler Nicole Miller — the same age as the troubled, telekinetic Avenger — and the adult Kelly Marie Schaefer. For a moment there, we could’ve been at church, which would suit this “Carrie” about right, if you ask the cast and crew.

Miller called the StageWest approach “honest,” meaning true to the hurt and loneliness at the heart of Stephen King’s first bestseller in 1974, and Sissy Spacek’s breakout movie. The matinee on Oct. 12 at the Kum & Go Theater, StageWest’s new home, will be followed by a “talk-back” session, an opportunity to discuss issues like bullying, led by Mindy Bockewitz. Bockewitz was at the rehearsal, too, and she had her opening question ready: “What does it cost to be kind?”

All of which may seem a bit, well, serious. After all, isn’t “Carrie” a fantasy? Isn’t it about scaring your pants off among pretty young people in full hormonal roar? Also, StageWest is staging the musical, which means lots of dancing and rhyming innuendo.

At the rehearsal, the big numbers hit like a whirlwind. High-schoolers and college students collapsed together and flew apart, and naturally their body-language included flirting. Later, choreographer David Decker claimed the choreography was “tightly interwoven with everything going on,” and the show will feature a seven-piece band, including electric guitar. The duets are pretty, the rest is rockin’, and is this the stuff of soul-searching?

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Absolutely: this musical should never be mistaken as another take on “Rocky Horror.” Ashley Wiser, the Iowa State grad who plays Carrie’s mean-girl nemesis, explained that a 1980s version tried the, “campy approach,” and proved one of the legendary failures of Broadway history. StageWest Director Todd Buhacker (also the company’s new artistic producing director) added that, when success came in 2012, the only old songs kept were, in fact, the hymn-like exchanges between Carrie and her mother.

“The new songs were from the heart,” said Buhacker .

In other words, “Carrie” should work in the same way as the recent Playhouse hit “South Pacific.” Certainly it’s entertaining and hummable, full of impressive voices — kudos also to Jonathan Buehrer, as a doomed decent guy. Certainly the set will make you gasp — welcome back, Tim Wisgerhof, designer par excellence. Nonetheless, that set’s a battered old gym with hanging chairs and bare lightbulbs that suggest the greater damage to come. Scene after scene dramatizes peer pressure, misunderstanding, or ostracism, and everyone watching will know how this can turn young people to monsters.

John DominiOverheard in the Lobby: Winterset Stage has a new production, “Radio Suspense Theater.” CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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