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Friday, October 24, 2014

What's the Matter with 'Carrie'?

The curiosity factor is high when it comes to Carrie: the Musical, whose status as a legendary flop still resonates. Its 1988 Broadway debut was met with scathing reviews, and it closed after only five performances with a loss of $7 million dollars. Since then, it's been revised, retooled and updated, but the question remains — "What's the matter with Carrie?"

The Woodlawn Theatre is hoping to answer that question with a production that preserves the essence of the story while peppering the script with modern references to texting and selfies. The familiar cast of characters is here — good girl Sue Snell (Megan McCarthy) and her all-star boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Cody Jones); mean girl Chris Hargensen (Alison Hinojosa) and her asshole boyfriend Billy Nolan (Walter Songer); Chris’s stooge, Norma (Tamara Brem); the compassionate gym teacher, Miss Gardner (Katie Benson); and, of course, Carrie White (Elise Pardue) and her fanatical mother, Margaret (Rebecca Trinidad).

As directed and choreographed by Christopher Rodriguez, Carrie looks and sounds good. Benjamin Grabill’s utilitarian set properly evokes a high school gymnasium, with sections of Carrie’s house on either side to serve as backdrops for key scenes at home. The five-piece band, under the direction of Josh Pepper, sounds great — and the vocal performances are fine.
Elise Pardue as Carrie

The problem lies within composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford’s score. When you’re working with such familiar territory as Stephen King's horror classic, you really need to bring your A-game. Alas, among the 20 songs in the show, only five or six of them really resonate. Too many seem to be treading water, as if they exist merely to fulfill the qualifications of a musical. And since special effects onstage are limited out of necessity, even more pressure is put on the performances to convey the drama.

Here again is where Rodriguez's production comes through. Pardue is fine as Carrie, morphing from timid geek to self-assured young woman with exceptional powers. Hinojosa and Songer are perfect as the high school couple you love to hate, and
McCarthy and Jones effectively represent the other side. Benson brings a lot of heart to the role of Miss Gardner, but it's Trinidad who really stands out as Margaret White. It certainly doesn’t hurt that some of the best songs in the show are given to her, and she delivers them with the emotion and ferocity that the piece needs much more of.
Pardue and Rebecca Trinidad

Carrie: the Musical plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through November 9th at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio 78201. Tickets can be acquired online or by calling (210) 267-8388. There will also be a teen version of the show playing October 26-28 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rocky Horror Hits Texas

Each October, the Woodlawn Theatre becomes home for RuPaul’s Drag Race stars as they participate in its annual production of The Rocky Horror Show. After 2012’s successful steampunk staging and last year’s S&M theme, the theater’s artistic director, Greg Hinojosa, has set the musical in a circus milieu this time around — and the results are terrific.

The carny atmosphere, with its colorful lights, garish make-up and general seediness, provides the perfect backdrop for the story of Frank N. Furter.

Having played Magenta last year, Drag Race judge Michelle Visage returns to the Woodlawn stage, this time doing some gender-bending in her portrayal of Riff Raff, cast alongside Season Six winner Bianca Del Rio as sinister sibling Magenta. Season Six runner-up Courtney Act joins the production for the first time this year as Frank, and it's more than just stunt casting. Both Act and Visage possess fine singing voices, and Act makes the most of the iconic role. Del Rio also captures the essence of the perverse Magenta while delivering the kind of campy comedy the audience expects to see.

Rocky Horror Show
Some Woodlawn vets are also returning in different roles this time around. Melissa Zarb-Cousin, who portrayed Janet for the past three years, is stepping into Columbia’s shoes. Sean Hagdorn, who played Riff Raff and Brad in the past, takes on the role of Eddie. Another former Riff Raff,

Matthew Lieber, squeezes into the gold lamé shorts this time to play Rocky. They all know their way around this show and therefore provide solid support.

Kurt Wehner and Carla Sankey capably handle the roles of squeaky-clean Brad and Janet, while Dave Cortez hams it up as the wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott. David Blazer is also fun as The Narrator, transformed into a carny barker in this new staging.

Speaking of staging, Wehner and Benjamin Grabill’s set looks great, evoking the feel of a small-town traveling carnival with a sinister edge. Hinojosa has designed an array of appropriately flamboyant costumes for the large cast, and everything sparkles under Chris Muenchow’s fine lighting. The performers are nicely choreographed by Sankey, and the aerial acrobats contribute to the atmospherics.

It’s always great to hear live music in a production such as this, and Hector Serna’s six-piece band provides solid backup for the singing. Alas, the singing was not always audible, as there were some opening night sound glitches which will hopefully be mended in future performances.

As a newbie to the Woodlawn Rocky Horror experience, I was impressed by this production, and I plan to make it a regular part of my Halloween season entertainment.

The Rocky Horror Show plays Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredricksburg Road, San Antonio 78201. Tickets can be acquired online or by calling the box office at (210) 267-8388.

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