Gateway Center Students Will Haunt the Chaminade Black Box for Years to Come

We all know the classic sorry of Carrie White and how her tortured existence came to a horrifying end, in classic Stephen King fashion. It’s one thing to watch the film but it’s totally different to see it play out live in front of your eyes. And that was the experience when the Gateway Center for Performing Arts performed the haunting musical this past weekend.

After it’s musical theater disaster of a run in 1988, this classic story from the mind of Stephen King received a resurrection in 2012 with rewrites and changes made to its book that critics said were improvements. Unfortunately, the changes didn’t seem to wow the critics enough. After more improvements, Carrie the Musical is being staged by community theaters and high schools all across America. And if this last weekend’s 3 out of 4 sold out performances tell you anything, it’s a hit!

Hazel Herman gets a bucket of blood. Picture Credit: John Lamb

As I stepped into the Chaminade Black Box Theatre, I took in the eerie atmosphere, the smell of the fog machines permeating the room. One thing that immediately caught my eye was the set, although simplistic, very intriguing. Instead of a traditional set built of canvassed flats, they were wrapped in plastic. As I waited the 30 minutes for the show to start, my mind raced with ideas of what it was going to be like. How much blood are they planning to spill if they have to wrap the whole set in plastic? Should I have brought a poncho?

“Scott Schoonover, our set designer, came with several ideas based on our conversations about how we wanted the production to feel. We wanted a stark, cold, ‘industrial’ feel that would allow for the special effects to be rigged inconspicuously and add to the lighting choices that Tanner Douglas made to enhance the story. It served the story beautifully as it created an univiting atmosphere that mirrored how Carrie felt everywhere she went… uninvited, unwanted, cold, and alone.” -Paul Pagano, Director

Finally, the lights went down and the music began. Right away, you’re introduced to the horror of the story as an interrogation takes place and the story begins. As Sue (played by Kylie Atkinson) tells the story, the students begin singing and dancing around her as the music explodes into motion. The choreography of the show was flawless. What really wowed me was when I saw what they did with the “plastic” walls. With the creation of the set and the use of plastic sheets, they could convey the emotion of the room and actors by casting different colors through the set which added to the horrifying ambiance of the production.

Carrie gets even in the deadly finale. Photo Credit: John Lamb

I was curious as to the intentions of the performing arts school to choose such an intense and mature show for a student production. Paul Pagano, the Executive Director, had this to say:

“We chose the show because of the message around bullying. It gave us a great avenue to get our young artists and audiences engaged in a conversion about the effects of bullying and the things we can do to stop the cycle of bullying. We facilitated a conversation with our cast and crew centered around four points: how have we been bullied; how have we been the bully; what motivates bullying; and what are proactive steps we can take to stop bullying. It was a candid conversation that we hope will extend with their family and friends.”

When asked if there was any opposition to the production, he said:

“We didn’t receive any push back for the choice. The families who work with and know us trust the decisions we make have a purpose, and that we will guide their young artists through the process with care and compassion.

Margaret (Santiago) taught Carrie (Herman) a hard and painful lesson. Photo Credit: John Lamb

As the show ended and I reflected on the show, I was simply amazed at the level of skill the children performed with. The whole cast acted their asses off and they should all be so proud of what they accomplished. Hazel Herman‘s portrayal of the infamous Carrie White gave me chills. The way she embraced the stage and sent chills down the audience’s collective spines was nothing short of perfection. The real show stopping performance came from Caroline Santiago Turner as she took on the role of Margaret White. A character known for her strict and uber-religious behavior, Turner hit every mark. And that voice! Folks need to pay attention to this girl.

Pagano had nothing but positive things to say about his cast and crew. And it’s much deserved. From the heart-wrenching shower scene to the expertly choreographed prom tragedy, the cast kept me, literally, on the edge of my seat. His final message to the cast and crew as the show wraps is this:

“I’m honored to tell stories with such a wonderful group of artists. Your thoughtful and open approach to the work is a joy to witness. And a special thanks to Lori Pagano and Stephanie Fox for your continued collaboration and vision to creating art that makes our community a better place.”

Keep an eye out for shows coming next year. A Little Princess will be staged from January 26th-28th, 2018. Crazy for You will be performed April 27th-29th, 2018. If this show is any indication of the talent this school possesses, you will not want to miss these shows!

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