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Southern Florida by John Lariviere

Carrie the Musical
Grippingly Gritty
Slow Burn Theatre

Also see John's reviews of Peter and the Starcatcher, The Marvelous Wonderettes and Murder Ballad

Anne Chamberlain

Thanks to a book written in 1991 by Ken Mandelbaum, the phrase "Not since Carrie" has for decades been synonymous with the biggest of Broadway flops. The original Carrie ran on Broadway for 16 previews and five performances. A revised version produced Off Broadway in 2012 has given regional theatre companies the opportunity to produce the show; in the South Florida regional premiere, Slow Burn Theatre offers their audience the chance to see for themselves what it's really all about.

Carrie, featuring a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and music by Michael Gore, officially opened on Broadway at The Virginia Theatre on May 12, 1988. Financial backers had quickly pulled their money out of the show following its terrible reviews. According to The New York Times, the "more-than-$7 million show... was the most expensive quick flop in Broadway history."

Carrie is adapted from the 1974 Stephen King novel "Carrie," later turned into a film of the same name in 1976. The story focuses on a lonely and awkward teenaged girl whose life is dominated by her religious fanatic mother. Carrie's discovery that she has telekinetic powers is not received well by her mother, who equates the power with evil. Just as Carrie seems about to break out of her shell, an act of cruelty at the hands of some classmates leads to an act of vengeance through the use of her powers that wreaks havoc on everyone in her path.

Shelley Keelor is a revelation as Carrie's mother, Margaret White. Her nearly Miss America good looks frequently lead her to be cast in roles reliant on her signature blonde curls, blue eyes, bright smile, and shapely figure. Here, with hair pulled back, she is stripped of all make-up and draped in the drabbest of clothes. What is left is a surprisingly strong dramatic actress. It is always a joy to see a performer show us another side, and this is the first time Keelor has been provided the opportunity to share this side of her acting with South Florida audiences. She remains incredibly focused throughout the show, wrapped in her character's angst, and lit by guilt-ridden religious fervor. As emotionally unsteady as this may make Margaret, we are still very aware of her love for her daughter Carrie. In fact, we are able to see that it is in her love for Carrie that she perceives her own salvation. Keelor's acting and singing moments with Anne Chamberlain as Carrie are intense and gripping, and her touching performance of "When There's No One" is filled with an aching sadness that adds vulnerability to the character.

Anne Chamberlain has a beautiful singing voice, whether singing lightly in head voice or belting full out. There is such a vocal clarity and trueness of placement and pitch that one could listen to her sing all day. Her standout vocal solo moment is in the song "Carrie" at the top of the show. She also has an incredible blend with the rich, round tones of Ann Marie Olson as gym teacher Ms. Gardner. With head down, and eyes averted, Carrie walks through her life avoiding contact with others. It is no wonder she'd be this way, as her only contact with her mother gives her a negative view of herself and the world. So, to Carrie, to stay happy, she must stay apart from others. Yet, despite the dysfunctional nature of their mother-daughter relationship, it is clear that she loves her mother. Olson adds a warm, kind presence to Carrie's otherwise miserable existence in "Unsuspecting Hearts," giving her enough hope to trust in the possibility of her date with Tommy.

Alexander Zenoz is undeniable talented as Tommy, balancing both strength and tenderness without making the character too bland. He also has nice chemistry in his moments with Chamberlain and with Jessica Brooke Sanford as girlfriend Sue Snell. Kristian Bikic is delightful as delinquent Billy Nolan, and Cristina Flores is good as the bitchy, self-absorbed Chris Hargensen, but Kayla Fast is even more watchable than Flores as Chris' equally bitchy sidekick Norma.

The production is energetically staged, and has solidly sung ensemble numbers cleanly backed by a live, five-piece orchestra led by Caryl Fantel. The set is a bit bland compared to the imaginative ones usually provided by Slow Burn, and special effects, though minimal, are effective. A fresh take on a familiar story, Carrie is gritty without being gruesome, and Slow Burn provides a quality production with punch.

This Slow Burn Theatre production of Carrie will be appearing through November 2, 2014. The theatre is located at the West Boca Performing Arts Center on the campus of West Boca High School, at 12811 West Glades Rd. in Boca Raton (3.5 miles west of 441). The Slow Burn Theatre Company is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) professional theatre company hiring local actors and actresses. They are committed to bringing high-quality contemporary musical theatre to South Florida, and proving that modern Broadway can rock. The company also offers technical internships to local students, providing them with professional experience. For more information on Slow Burn you may contact them by phone at 866-811-4111 or line at

Carrie: Anne Chamberlain
Margaret White: Shelley Keelor*
Sue Snell: Jessica Brooke Sanford
Tommy Ross: Alexander Zenoz
Chris Hargensen: Cristina Flores
Billy Nolan: Kristian Bikic
Ms. Gardner: Ann Marie Olson
Mr. Stephens: Matthew Korinko
Norma: Kayla Fast
Frieda: Jen Chia
Helen: Colleen Campbell
George: Bruno Vida
Stokes: Ricardo Silva
Freddy: Michael Friedman
Josh: Josh Lerner

Director/Choreographer: Patrick Fitzwater
Music Director: Caryl Fantel
Scenic Design: Sean McClelland
Lighting Design: Lance Blank
Sound Design: Danny Butler
Costume Design: Rick Pena
Stage Manager: Britni Serrano

*Indicates member of Actor's Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States

Photo: Rick Pena

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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