Underscore Theatre’s original musical parody of a very bad, very ’90s movie sequel is more hit than miss.
The scariest moment in Carrie 2: The Rage (An Unauthorized Musical Parody) might be within its first 30 seconds, when an overeager producer (David Kaplinsky) observes that stage musicals need to be more like movies in one critical way: They need to have sequels.
It’s a joke, of course. And it gets a big laugh. Not only is 1999’s The Rage: Carrie 2 a terrible film and a terrible sequel, but it’s the sequel to a very good film—1976’s Carrie—that was, itself, adapted into one of most notorious musical flops in Broadway history. (Technically, 1988’s Carrie: The Musical was an adaptation of Stephen King’s original novel.)
The framing device of this parody, with a book, music and lyrics by Preston Max Allen, is that, we, the audience, are in fact a bevy of high-powered Broadway investors who have been invited to a special, low-budget “workshop production” in hopes that we will open our wallets. The producer promises that, once the very expensive special effects are added, it will really be something to behold.
While he thinks the show will be good, it’s clear from the looks on his performer’s faces that “so bad, it’s good” is the best he can hope for. And for, the most part, Carrie 2: The Rage manages to pull that balance off, thanks in no small part to co-directors Isaac Loomer and Rachel Elise Johnson and a game, lively cast. Allen’s score is a bit hit-or-miss, but the hits well outnumber the misses, and his script’s zippy pace means that anytime the show falls flat, it picks itself up and keeps going.
The best way to describe the plot is that it’s the bones of the original Carrie movie jammed into the skin of a ’90s teen movie. When we first meet Rachel (Demi Zaino), our flannel-clad Carrie stand-in, she’s a young girl on the wrong end of an attempted exorcism. The aspiring exorcist is none other than her own mother (Annie Pfohl), a religious zealot who is quickly dragged away and institutionalized.
Flash forward a number of years and a now-high-school aged Rachel gets to watch as her best friend, Lisa (Carissa Gonzalez), loses her virginity to football player and then gets brutally dumped. See, it turns out that the jocks are all playing a “game” where they earn points according to the hotness of the girls they sleep with. The game leads Lisa to suicide, and when Rachel exposes the jocks, they swear revenge.
To make matters worse for herself, Rachel improbably ends up dating quarterback Jesse (Alex Newkirk), who is, like, legit sensitive and pretty cool. This puts her in the cross-hairs of head cheerleader Tracy (Amanda Giles). Soon enough, the popular kids are plotting to bring about Rachel’s downfall, unaware that Lisa’s death has awakened Rachel’s dormant telekinesis. The only person who sees what’s coming is school counselor, Sue Snell (Britain Gebhardt)—the lone survivor of the original Carrie’s high school massacre, an event that seems to have been incredibly and conveniently forgotten by everyone in town.
The musical makes most of its hay from mocking the movie’s incredibly inept plotting and tissue-thin characters. For instance, Lisa sings a song about how her death is the story’s inciting moment despite the fact that she gets maybe two minutes of actual screentime. And one of the show’s best jokes involves the astoundingly brief period of time over which these events have apparently taken place.
However, it’s here the show and its meta framing device cross their comedic streams: It’s unclear whether the creators of the show-within-the-show are mocking the movie itself, or if the actors within the show are taking matters into their own hands to comment on the original film’s ludicrosity. And these questions only exist because Allen has insisted on the convoluted nested layers. I say ditch it the framing device altogether. It won’t be missed.
Underscore Theatre at The Arkham. Book, music and lyrics by Preston Max Allen. Directed by Isaac Loomer and Rachel Elise Johnson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.