Review: CARRIE 2 at Underscore Theatre Company

Review: CARRIE 2 at Underscore Theatre Company

Pictured: Carisa Gonzalez and Demi Zaino with (back l to r) Alex Newkirk, Sam Button-Harrison, Michael Idalski, Joe Wesolowski and Amanda Giles. Photo by Evan Hanover.

By Elizabeth Ellis

My friend Nicole has a quote in her bio on a celebrity gossip site that originated from slate.com: “The 90s (Zines! Indie music! Bill Clinton!) are over and we’re never getting them back.” You thought the floaty skirts and Doc Martens riotgrrls, and boy bands had left the building for good? As if! Much to Nicole’s and your delight, the 90s are definitely back in CARRIE 2: THE RAGE (AN UNAUTHORIZED MUSICAL PARODY), a fantastic world premiere from Underscore Theatre Company.

The atmosphere Underscore creates is so authentically 90s that when one of the main characters brandished a Nirvana tee and tied a flannel shirt around her waist, the audience sighed and laughed in a moment of collective nostalgia. In this wonderfully hilarious and inventive show, Underscore makes a statement that it is a creative force to be reckoned with as a home for the fostering and development of new musicals in Chicago.

Director Brian De Palma’s 1976 bloody and iconic film Carrie remains a classic in the horror genre. 1999’s The Rage: Carrie 2, however,, is abysmally bad. It’s this over-the-top piece, which could only be improved upon, that forms the basis for the musical parody. Initially, a theatrical producer (the droll and fabulous David Kaplinsky) addresses the audience, informing us that this is workshop of a show hoping beyond hope to make it onto Broadway. This kind of meta breaking of the fourth wall and self-referencing is a tricky device to try to employ in a musical, but with material this familiar, and such a winning cast, you can’t imagine this piece any other way.

Might history repeat itself, and is it possible that a 90s Carrie might rain hell down upon her bullying classmates? That, of course, is the question in CARRIE 2. It’s been more than a decade since high school outcast Carrie White, after surprisingly being crowned prom queen and immediately drenched with a bucket of pig’s blood, used her astounding powers of telekinesis to burn down the school and kill nearly everyone inside. One of Carrie’s former classmates, Sue Snell (the outstanding and tortured Britain Gebhardt) is now the guidance counselor at the rebuilt high school (though, in one of many wonderfully silly moments onstage, the embers of the old high school still smolder). Sue sets her therapeutic eyes on an all too familiar kind of lost student, Rachel Lang (Demi Zaino nails this role to perfection), who reminds her a little too eerily of Carrie and her struggles. Rachel, whose religious nut of a mother (the funny and terrifying Annie Pfohl) is in the local loony bin, also catches the eye of football player Jesse (the adorable Alex Newkirk), the least offensive of the douchebag football players. Jesse’s attentions to Rachel set off the ire of his possible girlfriend, the pretty cheerleader and head mean girl Tracy (the marvelously bitchy and superficial Amanda Giles), and plots to take down Rachel begin in earnest. The rest of the stellar cast (Michael Idalski, Taylor Snooks and Joe Wesolowski, and particularly Sam Button-Harrison and Carissa Gonzalez) give equally strong and nuanced performances, a challenge in musical comedy.

Had Preston Max Allen written only the book or the music or the lyrics of CARRIE 2, that would have been impressive enough, but that fact that Allen wrote all three demonstrates a major musical theatre talent. The fast-paced story provides just enough connection back to the original film, but Allen packs the dialogue with perfectly 90s-appropriate references and circumstances. The stroll down memory lane continues with the note- and lyric-perfect songs and classic music video choreography, which make you feel like you stumbled upon a rehearsal for Backstreet Boys’ or NSYNC’s newest video. Co-directors Isaac Loomer and Rachel Elise Johnson had a titanic job to do to make this multi-layered piece fresh yet still reflect back to its roots in horror films, and respect to the 90s-era culture. They accomplished their task magnificently.

Though CARRIE 2: THE RAGE (AN UNAUTHORIZED MUSICAL PARODY) is wacky enough to become a long-running cult classic (and it should), to believe that this is its ultimate goal would be to sell this musical short. With such uniformly strong elements and such all-around excellent performances, it deserves to stand on its own as an exemplar of modern musical comedy.

CARRIE 2: THE RAGE (AN UNAUTHORIZED MUSICAL PARODY) runs through November 19th. For more information visit underscoretheatre.org.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City’s Children’s Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London’s Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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