Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review of Atlantis' CARRIE: Poignant Nightmare

October 7, 2013

The Atlantis production of "Carrie" opened to great acclaim on September 20, 2013.  However, the very next day, the four shows that weekend were cancelled due to "an illness in the company."  I was one of those who had tickets to that unprecedented "postponement" (which also had an unprecedented sudden change in the lead role).  Being in conflict with previous travel plans, I had no choice but to reserve tickets for the very last show, an additional 8 pm show on October 6.  

Carrie White is a bullied high school girl who was over-protected by her religious zealot mother. When Carrie discovers that she has telekinetic powers, she defies her mother and goes with popular jock Tommy Ross to the prom. I think most of us have already read Stephen King's book or watched the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek to have an idea of how that prom went.

Mikkie Bradshaw is such a precious discovery as Carrie White. Her voice is very strong with great range. Her acting is also quite impressive as the timid, tormented and eventually very angry young girl. It was revealed tonight that it was Mikkie who fell ill after her triumphant opening night.  But what started with Mikkie ended with Mikkie again tonight, who again had a phenomenal performance on this final show.  K-La Rivera learned the role and songs in an incredible six days in order to fill in for the succeeding play dates. We were lucky to witness and hear the two Carries sing a duet version of "You Shine" after the curtain call in this final show.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as expected delivers with all her heart, soul and misguided religious fanaticism as Carrie's mother, Margaret White.  Her range is really pushed to its upper limits with her punishing songs she had to sing, especially "And Eve Was Weak" and ""I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance".  She never fails to enthrall her audience even with the most off-beat of roles, and this certainly counts as one of her strangest roles (after Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd").

Sue Snell, the popular classmate who was stricken with guilt, was played by the pretty Yanah Laurel.  I have only seen her perform previously in a minor role in "Nine," but this show showed us more of what she is capable of doing.  She had her own featured moments in songs like "Once You See" and "You Shine." Markki Stroem played Sue's sensitive jock boyfriend Tommy Ross like it was written for him. He had his moment to shine in his solo "Tommy's Song" and his duet with Sue in "You Shine". 

Jill Pena was amazingly effective in her major antagonistic role of the hateful Chris Hargensen.  The degree by which we sympathize with Carrie's plight depended so much on how cruel Chris was, and Ms. Pena certainly played the perfect bully we all want to turn the tables on.  Mako Alonzo was also seethed with evil intentions in his role of Billy Nolan, Chris' brutish boyfriend and accomplice in her terrible prom prank.

Sheila Valderrama-Martinez does well in her role as the supportive gym teacher Ms. Gardner.  Her duet with Carrie on the song "Unsuspecting Hearts" was magical.  Jamie Wilson had smaller role as another teacher Mr. Stephens, but he also took on the role of Rev. Bliss, the host of a gospel radio show Margaret listens to.  His was the welcome humor midst the maudlin plot.

The set design and lighting design were very effective to create that creepy horrific atmosphere in which this musical thrives.  The special telekinetic effects were amazing.  That scene where Menchu levitates in her chair is a must-see. I thought the climactic conflagration scene could have used more orange light and better fire effects than what they used now. 

The book written by Lawrence D. Cohen had many uncomfortable scenes which may not be for everyone. The excessive religious zealotry and the relentless abuse and bullying were very difficult to watch.  However, the songs written by Dean Pitchford (lyrics) and Michael Gore (music) were unexpectedly very good with that gritty rock edge in a lot of them.  

However, once again, Filipino artistic talent is the main reason to watch this production.  The performers, veteran and new alike, nailed each and every one of those challenging songs to bring to life this unconventional musical.  The enthusiastic audience response after each emotionally and vocally brutal song number was a testament to this tremendous trove of talent.

Congratulations to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis cast and crew of Carrie for its memorably dramatic and courageous run.  A future re-run will be very welcome!

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