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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Deliciously Creepy
Near West Theatre

Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Julie Penzvalto and Anna Parchem
Photo Courtesy of Near West Theatre
The Stephen King novel "Carrie" very nearly did not come about. It was King's fourth novel (and his first published) and originally began as a short story for Cavalier Magazine, but the author became discouraged and threw the first three pages in the trash. His wife Tabitha fished them out, read them, and encouraged him to continue. Thus came forth the book which begat the movie which begat the musical.

Near West Theatre has challenged their youth theater group with the tremendous undertaking of this complex story. The energetic group of forty-two 16- to 25-year-old performers have spent many hours since May to bring this highly technical production to the stage. The result is everything a Stephen King fan could wish for, but with a slight twist. All of the characters equally share the blame for the tragedy, taking the spotlight off of perceived bad girl Carrie.

Carrie White is a 16-year-old high school outcast, known to her classmates as "Scary Carrie," who is the result of a "marriage rape" on her widowed mother who is a practicing religious zealot. Carrie's life has been one of constant punishment, ridicule and belittlement at the hands of her mother, while being made fun of her frumpy appearance (she wears what amounts to a homemade nun's habit) by her contemptuous classmates.

After gym class, Carrie's first period begins as she showers and, having had no education from her mother, believes that she is bleeding to death due to some unrepented sin. The girls in her class shower her with tampons, further humiliating her, as her teacher arrives and admonishes the class, taking Carrie under her wing to explain the facts of life.

Carrie shows her sensitivity when a boy named Tommy, whom she secretly admires, reads a poem in class about not judging people. Carrie makes a sincere comment about the poem, only to be ridiculed by members of the class for that. Tommy is the boyfriend of Sue, a former tormentor turned hopeful friend of Carrie. Sue's remorse is so complete that she talks Tommy into taking Carrie to the prom instead of her.

After the locker room incident, the gym class is given the chance to apologize to Carrie or to miss prom. They all apologize, except for Chris, who is banned from the prom and plots revenge with her boyfriend Billy.

At the prom, the now stunning Carrie in formal dress and make-up begins to become accepted by her classmates and by Tommy, who feels new admiration for her. Chris has worked behind the scenes to manipulate the ballots for prom king and queen and Tommy and Carrie are elected. As they acknowledge the tribute of their class, Tommy is called away to stop an argument, as a bucket of blood is dumped on the hapless Carrie. It is here that the small stirrings of her telekinetic powers turn into a raging force of revenge against all those around her.

In order for this complex musical to be successful, certain elements need to be accomplished with a high degree of professionalism, and the amount of effort that has been put forth by this cast and crew has been well worth the effort. The acting by these young volunteers is impeccable. The singing and choreography is spot on. The technical "magic" of slamming shutters and doors, flying chairs, and sliding books is flawless. And there is enough blood to make the point without being ridiculous about it.

Most important are the two main characters, Carrie White (Anna Parchem) and her mother Margaret White (Julie Penzvalto), who team up as the creepiest pair since Faye Dunaway and Diana Scarwid in Mommie Dearest. Through dialog and music, they weave a love/hate tale of persecution, provocation and abuse that will have you squirming in your seat.

If you are startled at things that go bump in the night, then laugh, this may be the perfect show for you. But the intensity and subject matter make it not suitable for others, including young children. Elements of stagecraft, choreography, acting and song propel the story of a woeful waif trying to deal with impossible situations at home and at school. This is scary drama at its best, as only Near West Theatre can pull off.

Carrie will be onstage at the Near West Theatre, 6702 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, through August 6, 2017. Tickets may be purchased by calling (216) 961-6391 or online at Tickets are $10 for general admission or $20 for "pick your own" Star Seats.

Cast: Paola Ayala, Joseph Bilski (Mr. Stephens), Cyle Black (Stokes), Peter Bradley, Matthew Brightbill, Crystal Chambers, Sara Chapman (Frieda), Marco Colant, Simon Davis (Reverend Bliss), Antonio DeJesus (Freddy), Kelly Dunn, Albert Foster, Jacob Gaspar, Mary Halm, Corinne Howery, Sydney Jahnigen (Miss Gardner), Donnell James, Rachel Johanek, Louis Johnson II, Connor Karboski, Alexandra Martinez, James McDermott, Aidan McKeon (Billy Nolan), Katie Medvec, Julio Mirelez-Norena (George), Mileena Norman, Anna Parchem (Carrie White), Julie Penzvalto (Margaret White), Louisa Penzvalto, Jocelyn Perkins, Devin Pfeiffer (Tommy Ross), Statia Rankin (Chris Hargensen), Kaitlyn Regan, Andy Ryan, Victoria Santana, Kody Sauvey, Grace Schumann, Emily Terry (Helen), Claire Twigg (Norma), Molly Walsh, and Morgan Williams (Sue Snell). The musical is directed by Devin Turchan.

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