King of(f) Broadway: Review of Squabbalogic’s Carrie: The Musical
If you thought you couldn’t make a Stephen King novel into a musical, you’d be wrong. Squabbalogic is currently staging Carrie: The Musical (1988) at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre, and it is an excellent production.
Carrie is set in an American high school, although the story is so universal that it could take place anywhere. Carrie represents the typical teenager. She doesn’t quite fit in. She is predictably ostracized though she wishes they would see her for who she truly is. But this is Stephen King – so Carrie also has the gift of telekinesis. And, just like teenagers and their hormones, Carrie struggles to understand and control this unusual power.
However, this isn’t just another frivolous musical. There is a serious message at heart: you should never prejudge, as looks can be deceptive. Take Carrie – though she is a drab looking outsider, she possesses not only a wonderful gift but a sweet and gentle spirit. Similarly, from her perspective, the final humiliation appears to be an elaborate plot, though half of those she sees as being responsible are in fact innocent. Director Jay James-Moody has mirrored this theme in the set. The cast simply exists in a classroom and gym where everything is normal; but what an audience sees is the world unmasked: a broken down, dilapidated house. It is a wasteland: the real world that the students and their cruelty have created around Carrie.
Carrie White is an outcast. She is shy and timid in the schoolyard and lives a submissive life at home. That is, until she is pushed too far. Hilary Cole is simply magnetic in this role. Not hindered by the movie incarnation, Cole layers her portrayal with pathos; this unhappy heroine is badly abused (though telekinetically gifted) and we feel for her. Cole shone in her characterisation (with a long skirt and slouch to match) and, with a beautiful voice, she presented one of the stand-out performances.
The stand-out actress however, was Margi de Ferranti as one of the show’s antagonists – Carrie’s mother. Playing a religious fanatic one faces a real risk of overplaying (especially when reciting the religious texts). Yet de Ferranti was measured in her portrayal and performs with fervour – though the intensity soon shades into something more sinister, and for de Ferranti, this is seamless. She produced a haunting rendition of ‘When There’s No One Left’, blurring the lines between fierce though frightened maternal solitude and obsessive homicidal madness, which brought out the extreme complexity and emotional delicacy of the character.
As Tommy Ross, Rob Johnson is certainly Carrie’s version of Prince Charming. The intelligence in Johnson’s performance was streamlining the transition between (initially) taking no interest in Carrie to the night of the prom, when he begins to fall in love with her. The success of this was largely due to Johnson’s genuineness on stage. He made some excellent choices, including an unflappable optimism which made the audience fall (just a little bit) in love with him too.
Good performances also come from Adèle Parkinson as Sue Snell and Prudence Holloway as Chris Hargensen. Parkinson had an angelic voice whilst Holloway added a fantastic sassiness to her character. During Carrie’s final moments Parkinson was heartbreaking when she forgave her for what she has done. Holloway sent a shiver down your spine in reminding you of the grim reality that is school yard bullying.
The entire supporting cast did a deft job and singularly elevated the production from one with ‘good elements’ into something that could be brought together as a cohesive whole. Whilst of course some of the numbers felt like they were being performed by awkward teenagers, the effect worked and most importantly, the production re-emphasized how ‘raging hormones’ make teenagers dangerous. The only criticism of course would be the use of accents – they are difficult to do at the best of times, and since the play isn’t violently American, it would have been easier to take them out. They added little but proved to be distracting for some.
On its original Broadway release in 1988 Carrie was a flop, closing after only 5 performances (somewhat less than The Phantom of the Opera which also opened in 1988 and after 10,000 performances is still running). It is difficult to understand how this happened: the story is pure Stephen King and doesn’t lag at any point, with a good mix of touching and horrific moments; likewise the songs are captivating and, in this production at least, performed with a professionalism not often found in an independent company. This is a fantastic production, if you’re thinking about going along, just do it.
Carrie is playing at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre until the 30th of November. For more information see: http://www.squabbalogic.com.au/