25
Jan
16

Carrie The Musical

 

Carrie the Musical

Brisbane Powerhouse & Wax Lyrical Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

January 22 – 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

“Carrie” opened on Broadway on May 12, 1988, and closed three days later, losing a record-breaking seven million dollars.

Michael Schulman. The New Yorker

carrie_oliversamsonjacquimclarenrunenydalalexwoodwardsophieperkinstimcarrollpiafrangiosajessicaryan

You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna’ be a night we’ll never forget.

Carrie White’s teen angst bullshit bodycount trumps Veronica Sawyer’s doesn’t it?!

Stephen King almost didn’t write Carrie. After he threw out the first three pages of the first draft, his wife found the pages, smoothed them out, read them and demanded to know the rest of the story. Carrie was his fourth novel; his first to be published (1964). Since then we’ve seen two famous film versions and the musical, infamous, earmarked by critics as one of the worst musicals of all time.

Zoe Tuffin’s production brings compassionate storytelling and mostly relatable characters to a stage that is strewn with prom night confetti from the outset and soaked in symbolic blood by the end. Tuffin’s production is uniquely imagined, deftly handled and boasts the very best of Brisbane talent, both onstage and off. The company comprises mostly Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium graduates, testament once again to the extraordinary amount of talent in this state, and to the quality of Paul Sabey’s Musical Theatre course content and high calibre of his teaching team. These graduates have rehearsed Carrie in between callbacks for the next round of Australian professional touring productions. No surprises there. The real surprise is the uniformity of triple-threat talent on stage, and the commitment of the cast to bring such deeply flawed, complex characters to life in such an authentic way, despite the flaky writing. The only over-acting comes from Tori Bailey as Chris the total bitch and Thomas Davis as her boyfriend, Billy, but others in the audience adore them. I might have enjoyed Bailey’s performance more if I could discern the words during her cute little rock pop solo, which is certainly energetically executed. Usually the Visy is spot on with the sound but the mix was an issue on opening night, just as it was recently in QPAC’s Playhouse (right up until closing night!), giving Sound Designer Ben Murray a few things to think about this week.

Dominic Woodhead leads a fantastic sounding band (we can’t see them through the haze in the dark out the back) but I’d love to hear them again in this space sans so much crashing percussion. In 1999 we built a soundproof room for the band and multi-cored to the PA for a warehouse production of Jesus Christ Superstar and I’m thinking Brisbane could do with some similarly innovative solutions, or a new breed of designer/engineer or something because the frequent problems with the mix in a couple of our top venues are old news and still unforgivable.

Most of the cast are as real as the mean girls and boys you might remember (or might have tried to forget) from your own high school days and nights, and it’s this focus, on the horror of high school that holds the original supernatural horror of the story at arm’s length until Act 2.

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Sophie Perkins makes the title role one to remember. An uninformed, misunderstood social misfit on the brink of womanhood, betrayed by her mother’s mismanagement, Carrie doesn’t like being “tricked” and she finds her power in the darkest revenge. (Remember, it’s not a happy ending!). Perkins has a powerhouse voice and a fantastic palette of emotions. I’d love to see how her nuance translates to the screen.

As Carrie’s mother, the formidable, fanatical Margaret White, Jacqui Devereux dishes out the vocal power and imposing physical presence to knock the poor girl to her knees without any contact at all and I’d like to have seen this dynamic explored, although the shock of seeing her push and pull her daughter across the stage certainly has the desired effect, making her a monster in our eyes. The role is generous – the show could almost be Mother’s story – and in it Devereux offers her most credible performance to date, never less so than in Act 2’s moving When There’s No One. 

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Georgina Hopson, a joy to behold and this time in a slightly less saccharine role than usual, manages even so to encompass the sweetness of Carrie’s unlikely friend, Sue, as well as her strength. Hopson’s vocal mastery, superior in every aspect, reveals the best aspect of a skill set akin to our current leading ladies of musical theatre. She’s a stand-out on stage – there must be local performers who wish they could discover the secret to Hopson’s easy presence – and she holds her own right up until the final tragic moment.

Alex Woodward as the jock boyfriend, Tommy, sings beautifully and brings sensitivity to the role, leaving no doubt in our minds that he genuinely adores Sue and for reasons he can’t quite fathom either, wants the best for her freaky friend.

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Chloe-Rose Taylor and Stephen Hirst resist the temptation to present us with cardboard cutouts of boring caring teachers and offer naturally confident, competent performances. Hirst makes the most of his little moment in yet another underwritten role and Taylor takes her time to establish the maternal connection that Carrie misses out on at home. In this supporting role she shines, connecting beautifully, believably with Perkins’ Carrie. Surprisingly, the song that least fits the show, Unsuspecting Hearts, is lovely, providing much needed relief from the heavy themes throughout.

Tuffin’s success lies in her pragmatic approach, her acknowledgment of the limitations of the theatre and her determination to create magic with so little. Set & Costume Designer, Patrick James Howe employs imaginative design solutions to fit perfectly into the intimate space and bring us disturbingly close to the action. Jason Glenwright’s cellar style lighting features a dramatically spare par can wall, which successfully shocks us into submission with its blinding white light before fading and making way for a special on Sue, centrestage, with her version of the story. This image bookends the show, the narration being one of the revisions after the monumental flop of the original production and it works well here. Importantly, the wall of light also serves to separate the “backstage” space from the stage, key to the shape and flow of the show. Unfortunately, its lights also flash unnecessarily to indicate Carrie’s telekinesis. It’s a bit kitsch when Tuffin has managed to avoid this sort of 80s’ mark elsewhere.

While there is very little telekinesis on display what we see is convincing enough so it’s clearly a matter of quality over quantity.

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Prom night is the ultimate test of our willingness to suspend disbelief, not only in terms of the massacre that must follow but in terms of its orchestration. Wisely avoiding the problem of not-enough-blood, Tuffin has Carrie kill in another dramatic way (no spoilers here but has Dan Venz choreographed the sequence?). This is undoubtedly more effective for those seeing the show without any knowledge of the previous versions of the story’s grisly end. Satisfyingly, the pig’s blood bucket hits its mark and covers Perkins from head to toe in real, really disgusting, dripping red something-that-will-have-to-be-washed-outta-that-little-white-frock-every-night. I mean, c’mon! There are globules slipping slowly down her skirt! No wonder she freaks out and wreaks havoc on the town.

In less capable hands, Carrie the Musical would be a dreary disaster, but Tuffin has successfully resurrected a show that many believed would stay dead and buried.

With greater attention given to some secondary characters (twice as many in the ensemble would be terrific and also, should the question of diversity not be applied here too?) and costume design, which is woeful with not a “prom” dress in sight, Howe clearly having concentrated on the look of the space and not on the way those who fill it would look, this Carrie could live again. How about a bigger budget and a sneaky return season in a bigger space? Can you imagine the bucket of blood tipping from a much greater height with litres and litres of the sticky substance spilling and pooling all over the Powerhouse stage?! With the appropriate resources at Tuffin’s disposal is that the Carrie this company might offer? 

Wax Lyrical Productions is the most interesting company to come along since Emily Gilhome’s Oscar, and certainly deserve a bigger audience for this production, the Queensland premiere of Carrie the Muscial.

Particularly if you go in clean, without too much prior knowledge, you’ll love coming out of Carrie a little bit dirty. And if you’ve seen it or read it, regardless of how much time has passed, you’ll enjoy this ambitious reimagining and the vibrant discussion that’s sure to follow. Until January 30 at Brisbane Powerhouse.

Production pics by Joel Devereux

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