“What I see is a story of a bullied teen who finds power,” said Samantha Eve, the young producer/director/actor who is responsible for Carrie the Musical, which runs November 7-17 at Center Stage Theater. As the creative force behind Out of the Box Theatre Company, Eve has risen rapidly into a leadership role in Santa Barbara’s vibrant independent theater community. Her productions of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Spring Awakening won multiple Independent Theater Awards, and Carrie looks set to be Eve’s most ambitious and popular choice yet. This musical version of the classic horror story is based on a Stephen King novel and more directly on the 1976 cult film starring Sissy Spacek.
This month, Carrie the film also returned to movie theaters in a version that includes Julianne Moore as Carrie’s hyper-religious mother. That remake, however, has much less to do with this theater project than a certain notorious flop, the musical Carrie of 1988. Already entered into the annals of New York theater history as a disaster (there’s a book about Broadway flops called Not Since Carrie), Carrie the Musical has nevertheless undergone a painstaking and thorough rehabilitation by a team that includes multitalented Montecito resident Dean Pitchford. This Carrie combines a campy, rock-musical feeling with what Eve describes as a story that’s “more honest about the difficulties of high school and less concerned with special effects” than the 1988 stage version. Carrie, for those who don’t know it already, is a bloody tale of inhibition, intimidation, humiliation, and revenge involving an introverted teen in a small town, her religiously obsessed mother, and some less-than-sympathetic mean girl-type classmates who get a major comeuppance. In other words, it’s just made for musical dramatization.
The creative team assembled for this production certainly ranks with the best Santa Barbara has to offer. Ted Dolas has contributed set and lighting design for Center Stage, a space that he knows better than anyone. Ben Ginsberg, the musical director, comes with a BFA from CalArts in keyboard performance and a stellar résumé, and the cast is extraordinary. Katherine Bottoms, a 2013 Indy Award winner (and the hardest working woman in Santa Barbara showbiz) will play Sue, the wicked antagonist who torments Carrie into telekinetic retribution; Julia Kupiec, a Santa Barbara High School student, will play Carrie; and Deborah Bertling, Out of the Box’s go-to crazy mom, will sing the living daylights out of her role as Carrie’s mother.
Talking with Eve on a recent afternoon about this, her seventh Santa Barbara production in four years, I delighted in her nonchalant descriptions of some of the challenges she has encountered along the way. “We had to fight for the rights to do Carrie,” she told me, indicating that competition from another production in L.A. had been a factor in the early stages of development. The happy ending is that the Los Angeles production was delayed, and, as a result, this will be the show’s West Coast premiere.
The next big obstacles to putting on this show at Center Stage were technical. “The projections are animated,” explained Eve, “and we’ve managed to retain those. But the levitating things? And the windows that open and close? Let me put it this way — a director has to be clever, especially in a black-box theater.”
Perhaps the best news on this front from a technical standpoint is the recent acquisition by Center Stage of four new microphones, all of which will be in use during what is sure to be an exciting evening of fake blood, real sweat, tears — and laughter. Like the best of the productions so far from this company, the proof of Carrie’s power will be seen in the wide range of emotions her story evokes in the audience.
Carrie the Musical comes to Center Stage Theater starting Thursday, November 7. The production runs through Sunday, November 17. For tickets and information, call (805) 963-0408 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.