Overhearing the sounds of jeers and behind-your-back snickering is enough to take anyone back to high school’s most adept torturers: other girls.
Few, however, suffered as much as Carrie White.
The shy, lonely school girl endured daily torture at the hands of her classmates and her religiously totalitarian mother. The bullying and abuse reach a climax at Carrie’s prom, where she gets revenge with a bloodbath that includes a bucket of pig’s plasma.
The first musical that opened on Broadway in 1988 focused on the blood, but “Carrie the Musical,” featuring the soprano Cristina Ann Oeschger, that premiered Friday night at the Victoria Theatre, puts the klieg lights on abuse.
Cast members sporting everything from gym shorts to prom dresses filled the stage — plastic cafeteria chairs were a common prop — with song and dance about high school dramas and dilemmas.
The musical flopped on Broadway, but Carrie’s assistant choreographer Alex Rodriguez and others from the show hope the focus on bullying and abuse will resonate more successfully.
“We live the culture of bullying every day,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve all felt like a ‘Carrie’ whether we did our hair wrong, wore the wrong clothes or was gay or transgender. People still relate to her story today.
“If you walk away with anything, hopefully, it’s knowing you have a voice in this world — you’re not isolated.”
It is unclear if this will translate into a success, but at the end of Friday’s performance, the audience seemed ready to award the entire 21-member cast a Tony.
The audience made clear that they wanted Carrie to succeed, to fit in. When she realizes she is going to prom, the audience clapped and cheered.
While admiring the work of choreographer Debbie Allen (who originally choreographed the Carrie musical), Rodriguez said the original show also tried too hard to relate to the MTV crowd, dance-wise. “They over-thought it,” he said.
David Rice, who saw the original Broadway musical in 1988 in New York City, attended Carrie’s premiere on Friday and agreed.
“It was weird and grand, and horribly directed,” Rice said of the original show.
The new Carrie is cast better and the leads are fantastic, he added.
“I was so relieved when I heard Carrie [Cristina Ann Oeschger] open her mouth because I would have to listen to her sing all night,” said Rice, who greatly enjoyed the lead singer’s performance. “I just thought ‘wow’.”
Jessie Amoroso had only heard of the original but jumped at tickets for Friday’s opening.
“You get very few chances to see things like this come around again,” said Amoroso, who likened the show’s reprisal to opening a “vintage wine.”
Cristina Ann Oeschger, who plays “Carrie,” is still a junior at Laurel Spring High School. To prepare, she watched the movie and read Stephen King’s original novel.
“The musical’s adaptation is true to the book,” Oeschger said, referring to Carrie’s struggles.
Also in attendance were Nicholas Carlisle and Erik Stangvik of the organization No Bully.
For anti-bullying month, No Bully and the show’s cast and crew plan to work together to promote the end of bullying in schools. All proceeds from Carrie’s closing night on November 2, will go toward No Bully.
“Her story still resonates with adolescents today,” Carlisle said.
Carrie’s Director Jason Hoover waited three years to remake “Carrie.” He obtained the rights to produce the musical last year. Ray of Light Theatre, where he is artistic director, specializes in dark musicals.
“Carrie was a natural fit,” he said.
The movie built up a cult following, and Hoover is hoping for the same. “I hope people enjoy the show, but also come away wanting to come back for more,” he said.
Carrie the Musical tickets are available at Ray of Light.
Be sure to check out Robert Hurwitt’s review in San Francisco Chronicle.