Studio’s “Carrie: The Musical” is frightfully bland

“You were right, Mama. They all laughed at me!”

If only Carrie White were talking about the audience at Carrie: The Musical (star-1/2), now at the Studio Theatre. Because ultimately laughing would have been a saving grace to what is a tedious and lackluster production of Michael Gore’s rock musical based on the Stephen King novel.

Emily Zickler as Carrie White: Carrie The Musical Photo by Igor Dmitry

Emily Zickler as Carrie White: Carrie The Musical
Photo by Igor Dmitry

It’s not so much that a patron wants to laugh at White, and certainly not at Emily Zickler, the competent actress playing the telekinetic girl, mercilessly bullied by her peers until she’s so bloody — dripping in pig’s blood at the prom, of course — she exacts murderous revenge, burning down her school in the process. You also don’t expect to laugh with the actors in this, a deadly serious show. Yet on a few occasions at a recent performance you could hear stifled chortles from the audience in reaction to over-the-top dialogue in Lawrence D. Cohen’s script.

But the almost-laughter is also provoked by a sense that the actors are stifling winks to the audience — little acknowledgements about how absurdly oppressive this story can be at turns. White’s mother Margaret (Barbara Walsh), for example, is a Westboro Baptist Church-style religious zealot. She’s the type who loves God but hates humanity, with a self-fulfilling dystopian worldview so strong, there’s hardly ever a moment of pure happiness or tranquility — and really no hope for her daughter’s future. If only co-directors Keith Alan Baker and Jacob Janssen would have allowed Walsh and other strong actors in the cast (chief among them Maria Rizzo as the popular Sue Snell and Eben K. Logan as ultimate mean girl Chris Hargensen) to break character for a second or two here and there to give a sigh or gasp or in some other way convey the inherent camp, even humor, in this woebegone tale.

If only Baker and Janssen could do such a thing — but for the most part, their hands are tied by the musical’s creators. Gore and Pitchford didn’t allow anyone to produce the show after the 1988 original flopped hard, and took 22 years to offer a toned-down Off-Broadway revival, which was intentionally humor-deprived and camp-free. As a result, and coupled with a rather standard-issue rock musical score, Carrie: The Musical is nearly as frightfully bland as the novel and 1976 Brian DePalma movie are frightfully fun. –Doug Rule

Carrie: The Musical runs to Aug. 3 at Studio Theatre, 14th and P Streets NW. Tickets are $20 to $40. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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