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According to Broadway lore, ‘Carrie: The Musical’ lives on as one of the biggest financial disasters in entertainment history. With a preface like that, you have to ask yourself can anything possibly be that bad? The short answer is no, but because it’s not that bad, it’s also hard to simply enjoy it for irony’s sake. “Carrie” was ahead of its time, produced before the popularized trend of turning campy movies into Broadway shows and slapping the suffix “a new musical” on the end. “Carrie” became a sort of industry standard of disappointment, even coining the title of Ken Mandelbaum’s 1992 book “Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops”
Nearly thirty years after its hasty exit from Broadway, Bailiwick Theatre is giving Chicago its premier. To Bailiwick’s credit, the themes of Stephen King’s original story are maybe more relevant now than ever, given the alarming rate of violence in today’s high schools. The message is certainly there, as well as a surprising effects budget. The company also bills this is a “revised” script and includes such modern touches as smart phones and hints of social media. If you’ve been waiting for decades to see a production of this show, Bailiwick’s is probably as good as it will get.
The show might even be okay, assuming you aren’t listening to the often laughable lyrics and easy rhyme schemes. There are no shortages of fine performances from a young and energetic cast, especially in the title role. While this may not be the best vehicle for Callie Johnson (who plays Carrie) to show off her impressive range as singer and actress, it will undoubtedly give her the exposure to launch a bright career. Samantha Dubina also shines as the villain Chris, and her goofy performance brings unexpected humor to an otherwise ugly role.
After slogging through nearly two hours of unnecessary mixed belting, the blood-soaked conclusion better be worth it, and director Michael Driscoll delivers. The final wrath of Carrie is by far the show’s most powerful asset aside from Ms. Johnson’s compelling performance. The problem with this troubled work is that it just takes itself too seriously and unfortunately the shallow dialogue doesn’t serve enough of a punch to make a statement. (John Accrocco)
Carrie: The Musical at Bailiwick Chicago // at Victory Gardens Theatre through July 12th.