The problem with attending live stage events in this town is that a play-goer so quickly ends up in a kind of repetitive creative loop. Same old, same old, no variety, no spice. Oh, cripes … not that tired world premiere again!
You’re getting the sarcasm here, right?
In fact, theater-goers in Los Angeles have tons of choices. The theatrical landscape is so vast that one could probably get away with saying “I only go in for new plays” or “Give me British drama or give me zilch” and find what you’re looking for, if not every weekend, then pretty damned close. This may no longer be the case if Actors Equity moves forward with its much debated plan to end the 99 seat waiver provision, but that’s a topic for another examination. For the time being, we’ve got options and plenty of them.
I recently came off a binge week in which I saw five live stage events (not counting “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities” by Cirque du Soleil) in a nine day span. Variation? How about following the revival/remount of “Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience” at the Los Angeles Theatre on a Saturday with the touring revival of “Annie” at the Pantages Theatre three days later? “Carrie: the Killer Musical Experience” is pretty bloody unique (as well just plain pretty bloody). You can read my review of the production on Curtainup.com.
Could a case be made that the family-friendly 1976 musical “Annie,” a product without a single cynical or despairing drop in its “sun’ll-come-out-tomorrow bloodstream shares any kind of anything with the musicalization of Stephen King’s first novel? Perhaps. Let’s review. And, sorry, this being commentary, expect some plot spoilers.
Both stories revolve around young girls: Orphan Annie is 11; Carrietta White is 17. One’s an orphan, the other has no father. Both girls experience hardship: Annie is exploited by her gorgon of an orphanage director, Miss Hannigan who despises the little girls she supervisors. Carrie, by her fanatically religious mother who is convinced her daughter is possessed and is bound for the fires of damnation. Never the basis for a solid mother-daughter relationship, but regardless…
Annie is probably beaten (although we never see it). She sings “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Tomorrow” and “Maybe.” Carrie is beaten with a belt by her mother and locked away in a closet. At school she is taunted and pelted with tampons. Her songs include “Carrie,” “Why not Me?” and “The Destruction.”
After all of her travails, Annie is adopted by a billionaire and helps inspire the birth of FDR’s New Deal. She thumbs her nose at Miss Hannigan and sweetly helps send her to jail. After her many travails, Carrie attends her prom on the arm of the cutest guy in school and ends up being elected Prom Queen. She is subsequently drenched by a bucket of pig’s blood which causes her to use her telekinetic powers to lay waste to everyone in the gymnasium and set the building on fire. She then returns home where she is stabbed to death by her mother who she manages to kill first.
By no means would it be a stretch to suggest that both musicals start out with a rather dim view of life in America. Whether you’re in Post-Depression era New York or present day suburban Maine, you’re looking at some rocky seas. How you choose to negotiate said rocky seas may or may not have a bearing on your fate. Annie sticks up her chin and grins and ends up in the penthouse. Carrie repeatedly turns the other cheek until, rather spectacularly, she snaps. As who, in her situation, would not?
The “Annie” team would probably argue that any perceived lack of optimism within their tale is a herring even redder that Annie’s signature locks. Yes, they’ve got homeless residents of Hooverville tents serving up soup and all but flipping the bird to dear old Herb who “made us what we are today.” Yes, the show has orphans with prospects a lot less rosy that Annie. But magically and thanks to the unlimited pockets of Daddy Warbucks, everybody seems to turn out all right. Including thanks to FDR, the country. Even stray dog Sandy is picked up and returned to Annie for Christmas. (You can check out my interviews both with original “Annie” director Martin Charnin and Sandy trainer Bill Berloni here at the Hollywood Pantages blog.)
But in the “Annie” landscape, if you’re going to make it, you’re going to need some pluck, some willingness to step forward and show ‘em what you’ve got. Oh boy, oh boy, does Annie have it! She’s in Hannigan’s office mugging irresistibly away when Warbucks’s secretary Grace Farrell comes looking to adopt an orphan for Christmas. And she charms the stuffings out of every individual she meets.
She’s not alone. “Hey, dig me!” behavior is par for the course in this musical, although those who indulge don’t often have the eyes of someone who can do anything to help. So you’ve got curly haired Lilly Mae Stewart singing her adorable guts out as the youngest orphan, Molly, followed by Lynn Andrews’s Miss Hannigan who shakes every portion of her anatomy during “Little Girls.” Then there’s the Cabinet member who goes musically rogue after FDR orders him to join the chorus “Tomorrow.” Hopefulness? “Look at me!” pluck? Heck, this musical even has a character who dismounts the bus during the “N.Y.C.” number determined to realize her dreams. The character’s name: why, Star-To-Be, naturally.
The spotlight-phobic Carrie has the opposite problem from Annie. She just wants to fit in among all the other high-schoolers without being singled out either for persecution or for prom laurels. Blending with your high school peers is not easily accomplished when you dress frumpily and everybody knows you’re a religious zealot’s kid. The teen years being the pit of hell that they are, Carrie’s classmates aren’t exactly at ease in their own skins either, as we get by the opening number “In.” You’ve got reprobate Billy (Garrett Marshall) who is on the third go-round of his senior year; his bitchy rich girlfriend Chris (Valerie Rose Curiel) who is dating Billy in part because it pisses off her rich lawyer dad.
Of course nothing is more galvanizing for a group of insecure high-schoolers than being able to unite to lord it over a misfit. Billy, Chris and the gang don’t want attention. They’d much rather pass the spotlight of humiliation to the girl they have nicknamed “S-Carrie White.” “That’s not my name!” Carrie shouts at one point, addressing the universe. By play’s end, anybody still standing will know that.
Attention, as they say, must be paid, whether you’re a Horatio Alger-esque orphan with great luck or a telekinetic teen who drew a bad hand.
“Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience” continues 8 p.m. Tue-Sat. with Halloween performances at 6:30 and 11 p.m. 2 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday; through Nov. 22 at the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway, L.A. (888) 596-1027, ExperienceCarrie.com.
“Annie” continues 8 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun.; through Nov. 1 at the Hollywod Pantages Theatre, 233 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, (800) 982-2787, hollywoodpantages.com