Along with the revival of Carrie, the musical based on the Stephen King novel, comes the amazement and curiosity that such a production exists at all. A story about a young girl who exacts revenge on her peers for years of torment and trauma does not exactly lend itself well to the stage, much less a musical. Moreover, there's the fact that when the show originally ran it flopped so greatly it's considered one of the biggest Broadway disappointments in history. It's hard to see why producers decided to give it another shot decades later.
Nevertheless, there's a lot in the revamped and updated production to get excited about. Molly Ranson is wonderful in the starring role, demonstrating with diverse expressions a true range of emotions that not only suits her character but can be interpreted as representative of all teenagers seeking meaning, inclusion, and individuality. What makes Ranson's Carrie come so much alive is how well she plays her down for the first half of the play. She blends into the background for the most part unless she's alone on the stage to talk frankly to the audience in the form of a song. That changes, though, when Tommy (played by Derek Klena) asks Carrie to prom, and Ranson injects a newfound hope into the character. It of course comes along with a sense of despair and helplessness for the members of the audience who are well aware that this story will not end happily for Carrie.
Ranson is equally matched by Marin Mazzie, a Broadway veteran who takes command as Carrie's troubled mother, Margaret. Their relationship is difficult and complicated, but there's an obvious love between the two as they show great care for one another. The songs these two sing together -- particularly the pitch-perfect "Open Your Heart" early in the first act -- are the absolute highlights of this production. When the two sing together, the harmony inside their relationship shows best. It's when they have to fend for themselves that life becomes harder to handle.
The emotional scenes and powerful songs these two lead characters share demonstrate the potential here. But they're not prominent enough to save the rest of the musical numbers and the cast. Several of the songs don't push the story along or reveal any more depth to the characters who surround Carrie. You don't like them enough to care about them, and the songs they belt out aren't interesting enough to make up for their shortcomings. They're just a bunch of kids.
At every opportunity, director Stafford Arima moves Ranson and Mazzie to the front of the stage. When they finish singing in the spotlight, the audience invariably cheered with great fervor. They earn the applause. When they return to reality, however, they have to quickly readjust to the norms of being just average.