Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Musical Mania for Spooky Season - Carrie (The Musical) Comes To Cookeville


With its recent production of Carrie - The Musical, the Backdoor Playhouse does it yet again. How grateful I am for decades of front-row seats to such a thriving campus and community theater experience!

For almost 50 years, the character of Carrie is a compelling cultural icon in the horror genre. The shy teenager suffers religious abuse at home and the horrors of peer pressure at high school. From Stephen King’s best-selling paperback to Brian DePalma’s acclaimed film, starring Sissy Spacek, the narrative is soaked in the apocalyptic blood of religious symbolism and feminine rebellion. 

Set apart from the novel and original film, Carrie the Musical was a terrible flop at its first try in the 1980s, but in this century, the play has achieved a kind of cult status, being the topic of books and podcasts. Yes, the script and songs were purportedly revised, and through multiple big city and small town revivals, the play has become a wildly popular production for colleges and community theaters. The bloody madness and catchy earworms of this ambitious musical drama have come to Cookeville, where our own Backdoor Playhouse is always boldly and bravely trying something edgy and new. 

This is not our campus theater’s first foray into musical mania for fall’s spooky season, and the disturbing spirit of the show reflects our internal anxiety as a response to the sadness and badness of our world. One academic critic described the plot of Carrie as a “dark baptism,” and I think this fits the play’s bloody truth for a world saturated in sexist repression, religious oppression, war, and inevitable religious deconstruction. The play is a parable, as religion reckons with its problematic perspectives on female power, where strongly written women characters twist and turn and sing and shout toward a total terrifying catharsis.

All this is done with catchy tunes, well-choreographed dances, and a communal feeling where the entire cast are trapped in their own emotional prisons and freedom has a total, supernatural, fatal cost. One thing that really strikes me about this show is that there are no cookie-cutter villains or protagonists. Sure, you can like some characters and loathe others, but everyone evokes enough sympathy that we all feel everything when the entire drama implodes catastrophically at a much-hyped prom. 

A sinister sendup more sickly than other coming-of-age ensembles, Carrie is the Breakfast Club on bad acid. Thanks to a deftly produced, tightly choreographed, and sonically catchy rendering, the Backdoor Playhouse brings all the panache of any big city production. With both newcomers to -- and veterans of -- Backdoor Playhouse productions, the cast of dynamic and talented young actors come together with a fierce dynamism that will draw audiences into its telekinetic web of theatrical magic. 


Tickets are available for each show at the door. The remaining shows are:  November 7, 10, 11, 2023 at 8:00 p.m. ; November 9, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.; November 11, 2023 at 2:00 p.m.

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