Originally published January 23, 2015
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
Almost 40 years after Carrie White – the titular character from the bestselling Stephen King novel and subsequent films – was drenched in pig’s blood at her senior prom, the bullied teen will exact revenge on her high school tormentors during Carrie: The Musical at the UTEP Dinner Theatre from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15.
While buckets of porcine blood are not among the production’s props, audiences can still expect to have a bloody good time.
“Visual effects are important in telling the story since so many people are familiar with the original film, so I can assure people that we are planning on a special experience for the audience for the prom scene,” said Greg Taylor, UTEP Dinner Theatre director. “I felt the New York productions kind of copped out on the prom scene so we are approaching it with all of the stagecraft we can muster. And yes, there will be blood!”
Taylor became acquainted with Carrie when he watched the original movie at the Northgate Theatre in Northeast El Paso during the 1970s. He jumped out of his seat when Carrie’s hand shot out of the ground at the end of the film.
In 1989, Taylor saw the original Broadway production of the musical Carrie, which was reviled by critics. While the production had its problems, Taylor enjoyed a lot of the music.
In 2012, an off Broadway revival of Carrie was launched with the show’s creators rewriting the story into a tale of modern-day bullying.
“They kept what was good in the original production and jettisoned the stuff that wasn’t while coming up with 10 new songs that really fleshed out the emotions in the plot,” Taylor said. “So when the rights were released, we went for it.”
Auditions for the musical took place in November 2014. Lauren E. Peña, a UTEP freshman, won the coveted role of Carrie.
“I feel a little bit of pressure (being the title role) but it just makes me want to be even better,” said Peña, who read the book and also watched the original 1976 movie and its 2013 remake to get into Carrie’s head. “The most challenging number for me is the prom destruction scene; between trying to hit my notes, make my light and sound cues and trying to be this source of power … it’s a lot. There is so much going on inside my head and onstage that it can get a little chaotic, which is good for my character.”
Carrie is Peña’s third production with the UTEP Dinner Theatre. During the summer she appeared in Chess and Footloose.
“I started coming to the dinner theatre when I was 7 years old,” Peña said. “The first show I saw was Bat Boy, and I knew that one day I wanted to be up on that stage. Now 12 years later, here I am. It’s like a dream come true.”
Sara Potter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Languages and Linguistics Department at UTEP, is looking forward to watching Peña’s performance.
In 2013 while writing her dissertation at Washington University, Potter played Miss Gardner, the gym teacher, in the Marble Stage Theatre’s production of Carrie in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Marble Stage Theatre director included a reprisal from the 1988 Broadway production that featured Miss Gardner leading the girls in a punishing aerobics routine as part of their detention for bullying Carrie.
“That reprise isn’t in the 2012 revival, but the director insisted on putting it in our version, particularly when he found out I used to teach aerobics,” Potter said.
Potter is a fan of the book and the movies, although she prefers the 1976 movie version of Carrie with Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie over the 2013 adaptation.
As a veteran of the show, Potter is curious to see what creative and musical choices the Dinner Theatre has made to stage Carrie, particularly with the famous prom scene.
Carrie has undergone several adaptations over the past 40 years, yet the story about a bullied teenage girl who has reached her breaking point continues to resonate with audiences. In the first act, Carrie sings about how she’d like to bring her bullies down to their knees for mocking her.
“When I was rereading the script and revisiting the original novel and film, I was amazed at how the true heart of the story, a shy unpopular girl being bullied beyond tolerance, is so relevant today with all the stories about bullying in schools today,” Taylor said. “While the play’s plotline of Carrie retaliating through the use of telekinesis is a definite chilling creation from the mind of Stephen King, you can certainly see parallels in the stories you hear on the news every day of bullied students taking the ultimate step to end the bullying.”
One of Taylor’s favorite moments is a song at the end of the show about how different things could have turned out if only people were more understanding of our differences.
“It is a beautiful moment,” he said.
Carrie: The Musical opens Friday, Jan. 30 and closes Sunday, Feb. 15. For ticket information, visit the UTEP Dinner Theatre website here.