When you put on a production of Carrie, there is a lot to live up to. Stephen King’s book is widely known and Brian de Palma’s film version is, of course, iconic. It is a text that full of well-known moments and images that come with a lot of cultural baggage and expectation. It is also, unfortunately for Squabbalogic’s production, a text that is not especially well suited for a musical adaptation. If there is a good musical version extant, it is not this one – it’s easy to see why this was a Broadway flop.
For the three people in the world unfamiliar with the plot of Carrie, here’s a brief précis: Carrie is a teenage girl with an oppressively religious mother determined to shelter her from the outside world. She is beginning to develop telekinetic powers. When Carrie gets her period for the first time in gym class, she is mercilessly teased by all the other girls. This sets off a chain of events that culminate in a bloodbath.
Carrie is a fascinating exploration of the darknesses in teenage girls and what it means to be filled with rage. It is, if not exactly horror, extremely eerie. In this production, the cast and creatives try their best, but they are hampered by a book and score that are anything but atmospheric. Not only are the songs completely unmemorable – I asked my theatre date afterwards if she could hum any of them, and she couldn’t – they don’t match the story at all. They’re downright upbeat. Carrie becomes the story of a downtrodden girl with budding supernatural powers who overcomes the odds and is asked by the most popular boy at school to go to the prom, becoming unexpectedly beautiful when she stops wearing shapeless sweaters and takes her hair down. For about three quarters of the show, this feels more like ‘90s teen flick She’s All That (starring Freddie Prinze Jr and Rachael Leigh Cook) than Carrie. And even then, it’s hardly shocking when that iconic bucket of pigs’ blood falls. It’s less an explosion of rage and more a fit of teen girl pique. All the darkness has been sucked out of it by the relentlessly cheerful score.
On top of this, there are just too many songs. The show gets bogged down in them, especially in the first act. The plot moves incredibly slowly. You’ve established that Carrie is the kid everyone picks on, Sue is the nice girl, Chris is the mean girl, and Carrie’s mother has a few screws loose, when BAM! interval. And then once you come back in after interval, it feels like everyone is just killing time until it starts raining blood. (Though when it does start raining blood, it is super effective. The strobes and the lighting – awesome. All too short, but awesome all the same.)
All this said, the performers in this production really shone, even though they were hampered by the libretto. Hilary Cole as Carrie managed to give the character layers, despite the limitations of the script. I would have liked to see more of Carrie’s rage, but the way she played the defensiveness and the shy vulnerability was gorgeous. Similarly, Adele Parkinson as Sue Snell was a standout – sweet but not saccharine, nice but still likeable and not cloying. Prudence Holloway gave Chris a real rock and roll bad girl feel, and really shone in the small moment of vulnerability she was allowed after her big number ‘The World According to Chris’. Margi de Ferranti as Carrie’s mother Margaret was also solid – while I would have liked to see more of her terrifying fervour, the desperation she felt about her inability to protect her daughter was great.
Where this production fails, it is largely let down by the libretto. I would have liked to see stronger direction – it felt a bit non-committal at times. Did it want to be scary? Did it want to embrace its campness? The show felt like it was a bit uncertain about where it was positioned. This said, Jay-James Moody has elicited great performances from his cast, and for this, he should be commended. With a better score and book, I think this same cast could put on an absolutely stupendous musical version of Carrie. Sadly, while this has some great moments, this isn’t it.
Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre presents
CARRIE THE MUSICAL
music by Michael Gore | lyrics by Dean Pitchford | book by Lawrence D. Cohen | based on the novel by Stephen King
Director Jay James-Moody
Venue: Reginald Theatre | Seymour Centre, Cnr Cleveland St & City Rd, Chippendale NSW
Dates: November 13 – 30, 2013
Tickets: $42 – $34
Bookings: 02 9351 7940 | seymourcentre.com