The world is in a surreal and crazy state. So, what better musical to be one of the first out of the COVID hibernation than Rise Above Performing Arts’ production of “Carrie.”
I first want to commend the staff of Rise Above for going above and beyond in their safety precautions. They recently moved into their own facility and have found a way to produce a show even during a pandemic. Seats are not only socially distanced but the chairs around me were removed providing me my own space to enjoy the show. In addition, masks are required. They did keep the concession stand open, but everyone who decided to eat and drink were very respectful and did so in their own area. The theatre was clean and hand sanitizer was available upon entering. There was a pre-show announcement that there would be no meet and greet with the performers after the show – another wise precaution. The staff takes patrons to their seat one at a time. Everything was done with a safety-first approach.
There were several understudies for this performance. While it may have been COVID related (or other reasons) my initial hesitation to the quality I would now see was quickly diminished. I had never seen “Carrie” before though I was familiar with the story from my horror movie watching days as a kid. The musical examines the life of Carrie White (Isabella Yoder) who is bullied and tormented by her classmates, most notably Chris Hargenson (Bridget Marsh). Carrie lives with her mother, Margaret (Kasey Morgan) who is an overzealous religious woman who believes the world is full of evil and she must do everything possible to protect her daughter from the ways of the world.
The cast displays incredible vocal prowess, despite a few moments of laziness where unison takes center stage (you must nail those harmonies). Even with the minor flaws, actor after actor will amaze you with their strong vocal performances. Artistic Director, Jacob Ruscoe maximized the use of space in the theatre which has a stage with no proscenium. The show happens all around you and the actors bring you in as they tell their story, so much so that you quickly look past the fact they are wearing masks and you just become immersed in the musical.
Isabella Yoder is awe-inspiring as Carrie White. She offers a fantastic blend of vocal power and dramatic flair that the role requires. Right from her first notes in the song “Carrie,” the audience is left gasping at the strength of this young performer. Yoder carefully navigates the complexity of the character and is extremely believable as you watch the emotional transformation unfold. The role is extremely difficult, but Yoder provides the audience a multi-layered character which is both engaging and frightening. Her work in “Destruction” is breath-taking and was a visual masterpiece created by the show’s choreographer, Rachael Johnson. The audience was left in pure silence after Yoder’s performance in this scene.
The role of Margaret is played by Kasey Morgan. I am always leery when young people play adult roles, however, Morgan has a powerhouse voice and a demeanor that allows for audience members to see her as the steadfast, though very demented mother of Carrie White. Morgan has several moments of pure vocal excellence – from “Evening Prayers” to “When There is No One,” this young actress leaves no doubt as to her ability to handle the role. I thought her ending scene was a bit forced but this was completely overshadowed by the rest of her performance.
Cameron Cabral (Tommy) and Owen Demaio (Billy) are clear evidence that there are young men in this community with amazing talent. Cabral offers the perfect blend of charisma and humble swagger that helps to bring the character to life. He accurately transforms his character so that the audience sees his love for Sue (Leena Jarrar) yet balanced with his compassion and inner feelings for Carrie. “Dreamer in Disguise” along with his duets with Jarrar and Yoder shows the continued vocal strength of this amazing cast.
In contrast to Cabral, Demaio represents one of the villains in the story. Having previously seen Demaio in West Side Story, I was impressed with his ability to play such a contrasting role. Demaio was witty and displayed a strength and anger that every antagonist needs. I was impressed with his ability to succumb to the wishes of his girlfriend, Chris (Bridget Marsh). He made clear choices and went for everyone. He was announced as an understudy for the role which may have led to a little choppiness on his part. However, understudy or not, he was perfectly cast and added another layer to the production.
Sue played by Leena Jarrar and Chris (Bridget Marsh) are the perfect compliments to each other and to the central story of the tormenting of Carrie White. Jarrar has a fantastic voice and her solo of “Once You See” was simply perfect. Her love for Tommy was evident and was clearly a focal point of her character development. Marsh is one of those performers who simply goes to another level. She completely immerses herself in the role. Having been impressed after seeing her in “Tuck Everlasting,” I was excited for the chance to see her again and she did not disappoint. Marsh has that “WOW” factor, and this has only increased over the last year. There were a few times where both Marsh and Jarrar softened too much in their dialogue and they need to always maintain accurate levels, but they delivered spectacular performances.
“Carrie” was both electric and engaging. There is no doubt you will be amazed at the talent of this young cast. I would challenge them to maintain consistency and to be careful of become too comfortable in their roles. This show takes maximum energy and a focus which cannot be underestimated. If you are ready to go back to the theatre, then “Carrie” is a perfect place to start.
“Carrie” runs through December 6th at Rise Above Performing Arts – 35-1 S. Tamiami Trial Suite 1105. Tickets and more information can be found at www.riseabovearts.com or by calling 941-702-4747.