While area theaters often stage shows with Christmas or Hanukkah themes around the year-end holidays, it seems October has taken a lesson from December. Currently at Crown Center, Coterie Theatre is offering a version of Dracula, while at Off Center Theatre, the Egads! Theatre Company is staging a bloody show with a notorious reputation - the musical version of Stephen King's horror novel, Carrie.
High school confidential
The show is referenced in a book on every theater connoisseur's shelf called Not Since Carrie, an encyclopedia of the most famous Broadway musical flops in the modern age. It honors in its title the 1988 musical version of Carrie, the story of the telekinetic high school girl invented by King and, with Sissy Spacek's help, memorably filmed by director Brian De Palma.
Alas, the musical only played sixteen previews and five performances before it was shuttered at a loss of $8 million. And yet, it holds fascination to this day, including to Steven Eubank, who explains why his Egads! Theatre Company is presenting a production of the musical.
"Why won't Carrie die?," says Eubank. "She never dies. In fact, unfortunately, it's a timely story no matter what time we're in.
"It's about exclusion - being a misfit, being an outcast, being made fun of, and ultimately it's about inciting revenge. I think we all relate to that. I think we've all felt bullied or pushed and we fantasize about what we could possibly do if we were pushed too far. I think that's the electricity and excitement about it."
A gift and a curse
The piece's central characters are a mother and daughter pair who've become pop culture icons. Carrie White is a naive high school girl who discovers, after being tormented by her peers, that she's both gifted and cursed with the power to move objects with her mind. Her religiously zealous mother Margaret has made it her purpose to shelter her daughter from the hurt and harm she's endured in her own life, and is played in this production by Tara Varney.
"Margaret has a very tenuous grasp on the world and reality according to other people," says Varney. "It would be really easy to just call Margaret mentally ill and leave it at that, and then write her off.
"But it's not like that, and even though I think she is, that doesn't dismiss what she thinks is important. And that doesn't dismiss her very real feelings and her real fear and her real love. There are way more layers than just writing her off as sick in the head. And that gives us a lot to play with."
Playing Carrie is Chelsea Anglemyer, who says her take on the character is different from that of Sissy Spacek in the film and a tad biographical.
"I think I bring this sweet quality to her that people probably aren't going to expect but I think it makes her more likable and relatable," Anglemyer says. "I think everybody has a moment or two in middle school or high school where they feel like they're not included. I mean, I definitely had those moments. There are definitely a few specific circumstances I went through that were Carrie-like."
Some productions of Carrie have played it as camp and for laughs, but Steven Eubank says he's directing it seriously and with reverence.
"It's delightful to be able to handle it with such care," he says. "It's customary for Egads! Theatre Company to produce kitsch and schlock and riotous kinds of material, and this one's a riot in a different way. This is an outrageous piece of work that we're able to polish to a sheen."
Though the 1977 film version brought Oscar nominations for both Spacek and Piper Laurie as Carrie and her mom, it seems that indeed the characters won't disappear. A remake with Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore comes to area screens this fall.
Egads! Theatre Company presents Carrie: The Musical through November 2, Off Center Theatre, 3rd level of Crown Center shops. 816-842-9999.