I would venture to say that if I were to take a poll of how many people who love horror movies had seen Brian De Palma's "Carrie,” based on the novel by Stephen King, nearly every box would be checked. Being a horror movie aficionado myself, I was honored to be asked to come to Cumberland Theatre's "Carrie the Musical" and review the production.

By Trish Morgan
For the News Tribune
I would venture to say that if I were to take a poll of how many people who love horror movies had seen Brian De Palma's "Carrie,” based on the novel by Stephen King, nearly every box would be checked. Being a horror movie aficionado myself, I was honored to be asked to come to Cumberland Theatre's "Carrie the Musical" and review the production.
I had no expectations that a musical would pay homage to the "Carrie" of 1976, which starred Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt and Amy Irving. This horror classic set the precedent for all things scary and unexpected.
When I first found out that Cumberland Theatre was going to be producing "Carrie the Musical,” I was sure that sell-outs were inevitable. Everyone who loves horror, loves "Carrie.” Yet, I could not imagine how a musical could measure up...how a musical could capture the isolation of Carrie White, the misfit...how a musical could allow the audience to experience the famous prom night - the night that was Carrie White's most special, beautiful night with class heart-throb Tommy Ross - a night that soon turned gruesome and deadly.
Speaking of expectations, I most certainly did not anticipate crying my way through Act One. I will admit that I am an emotional person when I sit in an audience and watch a production. But, when exceptional actors take the stage...when THESE exceptional actors took the stage...I was mesmerized, I was part of the life of Carrie and her mother Margaret White. I was back in high school - remembering mean girls, cliques, jocks, students who just didn't seem to fit in with everyone else, teachers who cared, all things high school - the good and the bad. A vicarious experience for sure.
But why the tears? I never in a million years would have expected to sit in an audience at a production of "Carrie" and have tears running down my face. But I did.
The relationship between Carrie and her mother...that is what spoke to me in this production. Margaret White, played perfectly by the always-on-point Nicole Halmos - I felt the love, the extreme overprotective kind of love that Margaret White felt for her daughter. The music...oh, the music moved me. Margaret's haunting fears of losing her daughter, expressed through the most magnificent songs by Nicole. I will never forget how I felt that night when Nicole sang about Carrie. Carrie. "Who will hold me when there is no one?"
Directed by Kim Rowley, it was obvious from the very beginning that this was going to be no comparison to Brian De Palma's screen version. I found myself feeling Carrie's life, feeling Carrie's need for someone to care about her, feeling Carrie's loneliness. Taylor Campbell took me there. Taylor Campbell brought many tears to my eyes with the range of emotions she experienced - I understood Carrie. Taylor made me feel Carrie's love for her mother, as well as fear of her mother. And when Carrie discovered her power and that she could now be in control of her life and not so much under the thumb of her mother - that was a powerful moment for me.
I did not see this production so much as one about bullying, although that subject was evident throughout. The clique you loved to hate - Chris Hargensen, Billy Nolan and Norma - played with such a sense of of vengeance and spite by Aimee Conlee, Adam Marino and Lily Kerrigan - ooooooh, how I wanted to slap that smugness off Norma's cute little face! Outstanding acting and vocals when we all head back to high school for two hours!
The story was told by Sue Snell, who survives the wrath of Carrie White at the prom, and Sarah Burton tells it well. She actually started out being one of the girls who taunted and shamed Carrie White, but then grew to realize that Carrie was just like all of us - just wanting to be loved, just wanting to be part of life. Sarah was outstanding in this role...so believable, and so destroyed by everything that happened.
Everyone in this cast plays their parts with perfection. I have watched many of these actors progress in their craft - starting out in ensemble roles - refining and honing their skills on stage. Whitney O'Haver takes on a very busy production schedule...accumulating quite a portfolio of local community theatre productions. Whitney - you keep at it girl! I think you're terrific!! And, Brett Reel - who has been acting since he was 11 years old...that is an incredible dedication to the art of performance! He shines every time he takes the stage.
I could say that about every single actor in the show. And that is truth. Hayden Kline, last seen as the Teen Angel in "Grease" - he could sing for days and I would be there to listen. Same with Stephen Gumtz...I am a forever fan. I have seen Stephen in some of the most sought-after roles, and he plays them with the finesse of an Academy Award winner. He's a star...pure and simple.
Heidi Gardner - well, her diverse background in regional theatre is gold, and her role as Miss Gardner, who believes in Carrie White, is quite memorable.
The cast is rounded out by Kirk Yutzy, Victoria Mann, Savannah Humbertson and Ian Robinson...all with acting and vocal credentials and theatre in their blood. Ms. Rowley has a keen eye for talent, and insightful skills in putting together casts that gel...casts that leave an audience spellbound. And these actors make that happen.
In summing up the two hours at this show, Nicole and Taylor - I will always remember the love, the desperation, the fear, the power, the terror, the obsession, the horror, and again...the love. I know you loved your Carrie, Mrs. White. It's just that you were blinded by it.
Thank you, cast. Thank you for the music that moved me to tears.
"Carrie the Musical" will run tonight, 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. The final performances will be next Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., and final curtain next Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2 pm. For more information or tickets, call 301-759-4990.