Carrie (Taylor Aragon) holds Tommy Ross (Danny LeMache). NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

‘Carrie, the Musical’
Book by Lawrence D. Cohen, music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford

Adapted from the novel by Stephen King

Through Oct. 28

Montclair State University, Memorial Auditorium, 1 Normal Drive

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By STEFANIE SEARS
For Montclair Local

With Halloween right around the corner and Stephen King’s “It” (2017) film adaptation of his 1986 novel a success at the box office, Montclair State University timed its production of a musical adaptation Stephen King’s “Carrie” well.

“Carrie, the Musical” is directed by the 2012 Off Broadway revival’s choreographer Matt Williams.

King’s book, and the musical, tells the story the story of Carrie, a bullied high school misfit whose overbearing religious fanatic mother abuses her. Carrie discovers her own telekinetic powers after she experiences her first menstruation, and uses them for revenge when the bullies make fun of her at the prom.

The musical adaptation of “Carrie,” King’s 1974 novel, his first, has lyrics by Dean Pitchford, a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, and music by Michael Gore. The musical debuted in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 1988, and opened and flopped on Broadway that same year.

Williams, an adjunct professor in the department of theater and dance, said in a telephone interview, “There were such mixed feelings about the show. It only had 16 previews and five performances, guaranteeing its place in theater history as one of the most expensive disasters of all time. There was even a book written about it called ‘Not Since Carrie,’ written about all of the notorious or famous flops of Broadway history, and ‘Carrie’ made it into the title of that book.

Years later, Stafford Arima, who directed the 2012 revival, convinced the writers to resurrect it with some adjustments, such as song replacements and design changes, to achieve more consistency. It is now licensed all over the country, thus leading to Montclair State’s production, which has a larger cast size and performance space than originally called for.

“I’m advising the cast to stop at nothing until we find a very honest and authentic way of telling these people’s stories. It’s all about finding that golden nugget of honesty, finding the honest relationships in the scenes. Any hint of campiness is not of interest to me.”

The set for ‘Carrie’ is already dilapidated at the top of the show, as the play takes place in memory. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Throughout the show, unseen male and female interrogators question Sue Snell, a remorseful student (played by Juliana Chimenti) about the prior events and her relationships with the other characters. The tale is told through flashbacks. Scenic designer and adjunct professor Shoko Kambara wished to reflect that the events have already happened, by using a set already in shambles when the show starts.

“Are we in reality or are we actually looking at Sue’s memory?” Kambara said at a dress rehearsal. “Because in the book, one of the things Matt really wanted to keep, he kept referring back to the source material, and in the book what happens is that Carrie ultimately walks through town and the whole town disappears. So we wanted this to be a version of that. Sue is clearly in some kind of mental hospital, somewhere where her memory may or may not be accurate, so that was important also.”

Bookwriter Cohen’s writing, Williams said, provides “great, comic relief within these scenes that juxtapose against the darker material.” Williams. Gore and Pitchford’s music and lyrics also balance catchy melodies with the dark atmosphere, he said.

He pointed out that even Carrie is presented a little bit lightheartedly, as she manifests the metaphoric Stephen King “inner steel,” he said. He has directed sophomore Taylor Aragon to play the title role as a timid character who also has charisma.

Given the heavy subject matter of the show, Williams advised the cast to be supportive of one another.

Margaret White (Hattie Marks) loves the Lord, and her daughter Carrie. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

For senior Hattie Marks, who plays Carrie’s religious fanatic mother Margaret White, the role has been educational. It’s  very different from the progressive, freedom-loving character in she played as a freshman in “Hair.” Her training has helped her approach Margaret White: she studied the Bible and King’s novel. Marks said, “Everything Margaret does is for the Lord and for her daughter. She’s doing what she has to do for the people and what she loves.”

Students contribute not only by acting but also by design: sound effects design and sound system design are provided by seniors German Martinez and Abigail Martin, and junior Daniel Mackle designed the lights. Montclairite and Broadway vet Rick Sordelet provides the combat choreography.

Williams said, “The nature of the material is based on extreme bullying and emotional and physical abuse, and it’s vital that we maintain a loving and caring supportive stage environment.”

The ensemble of “Carrie, the Musical” sing together at the prom. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL