An Unofficial Review: Carrie The Musical

Carrie The Musical
Mackay Conservatorium Of Music
Triple Threat Theatre Company

I’ve been a fan of the Stephen King novel Carrie since I was old enough to read anything above the Baby-Sitter’s Club. In fact I believe it, Gerald’s Game and Richard Laymon’s The Stake were the first ‘adult’ novels I ever read, so naturally, Carrie was also one of the first horror movies that I ever watched too, when I went through my 70’s, 80’s classic horror flick phase. I’m saying this now because though I’m still very much an amateur as far as my knowledge of musicals and productions goes, I know the book and the movie Carrie better, I wager, than most would because I’ve read the novel at least seven times and have watched the movie three times that- and the re-makes as well. I can’t read music no, but I am all over Stephen King. 

I’ll admit that my eyebrows shot up at the idea of Carrie being a musical, and I wasn’t surprised when I did some research and found out that it had been one of Broadway’s biggest flops because it cost too much to do it ‘right’ and because the score was considered to be relatively unimpressive. I’ve never seen the musical live before, but I watched it the day before I went to see Triple Threat’s production because I wanted to know what to expect and I’m glad I did because the results of that little comparison were surprising.

Truth be told, I enjoyed most of Triple Threat’s production better than I did the professional version that I saw on YouTube, mostly for the fact that Margaret White’s (Carrie’s Mother) songs sounded dreadful on the version I watched. It was just too much caterwauling I thought, and made the show seem like it dragged on and was incredibly depressing. However, I have been a big fan of Megan Mill’s voice since I first heard her sing just over a year ago so I wasn’t surprised to hear her make them her own. Her moody, bluesy voice put some serious magic into otherwise bland numbers and effectively corrected what I believed was the biggest problem with the whole show so that was some brilliant casting because I don’t think anyone else could have flipped that part like that. In the same sense, Sammie Robertson also did a great job as the gym teacher that takes it upon herself to champion Carrie, and I thought her accent was the best in the whole show, and her vocals were very strong. Both more seasoned actresses wobbled a little on some high notes, but Sammie Robertson nailed them in the reprise proving how impressive her range is and Megan’s proved time and time again that you don’t need to be a soprano to be vocally astonishing. 

That aside though, Carrie needs an incredibly talented young adult cast to carry the weight of what is very much an oppressive story, and I don’t know if there’s another regional town in the world, or at least Australia, that has the teenage star-power that Mackay does so naturally, I was very impressed with some of the lead casting choices and not shocked that they absolutely crushed it. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the lead, Emily McGrath before and I knew that she had a lot to offer, but I was amazed by how powerful her stage presence, characterisation and vocals were. From the moment she self-consciously shuffled out onto the stage she was Carrie White in every sense of the word and the songs she had to sing were not easy. Miss McGrath acted with every part of her being- from the way her hair fell over her face to the way she turned one foot under awkwardly when she sat on a chair, she was one hundred percent committed to her character and an absolute pleasure to watch- especially for a big fan of the character. Every now and then she sort of struggled to hold onto her American accent consistently, but she didn’t go for the stereotypical Yankee accent that most actors go-to either but a more regional dialect that was true to the Sissy Spacek version so props to her for that because it was a lot more difficult to annunciate. Once again, I don’t think anyone else in town could have done as good a job as Emily McGrath did.

Taylah Verri played the other lead, Sue Snell, and once again the casting was spot on because if you want a girl to play the girl next door to go out on a limb, then Taylah Verri is the one to do it. She played the part of the sheep/bully part as authentically as she did as the teenage girl full of regrets, and I believe that the moments where she was being interviewed post-tragedy under the spotlight were some of the finest acting moments in the entire show. Sue Snell is required to flit back and forth between disgusted, angry, love-struck and fearful and she did this with aplomb, and though her soprano voice started off feeling a touch self-conscious and shaky, she seemed to grow in confidence as the show went on and her duet with Tiernan McCallum on ‘You Shine’ was delightful. She didn’t rest on those laurels though, and carried that confidence right through to the end of the second act and her final solo lines gave me goosebumps, especially when paired with how utterly believable the rest of her dialogue was. I love Taylah’s sweet head voice, but I’ve got to say I can’t wait to see what happens as she develops her belt because it’s there and it’s gonna knock socks off one day. 

Tiernan McCallum is another young actor I’ve been lucky enough to work with before and I loved, loved, loved his performance as Tommy Ross. It’s been only 6 months since I last saw Tiernan in anything and yet, like so many of these kids, his stage presence has grown in leaps and bounds. From an amateur actor’s perspective it’s a lot easier to play the crazy mother or the messed-up teen head-case, but playing the straight character is bloody challenging and I loved how Tiernan expanded on Tommy’s character by making him so vulnerable and affectionate because that part could have been dull in the wrong hands. Truth be told that development is one of the few places where the musical actually is better than the book or at least the movie, and there was this really wonderful moment (unfortunately just as Tommy’s going off to certain death) where Tommy looks back at Sue and gives her this heart-melting smile as he proclaims his love and I saw a few of the younger girls in the audience swoon a bit over Tiernan then and with good reason because he was truly the all-American boy next door that every girl wants to take to the prom. Oh and that voice… that is seriously one talented kid! 

The two other leads, Georgia Sheedy and Riley Nicholas played the bullies in the cast, Chris and Billy. I loved Riley’s voice and thought that Georgia had great stage presence in addition to looking fantastic, but I couldn’t hear a lot of Georgia’s songs over the top of the band because her numbers were more quickly-paced and therefore, louder. There were a few technical issues with the mics in general so a lot of the first half got a bit drowned out, however I’ve done enough productions of my own by now to know that microphones are the devil and there’s no techie, actor or deity that can fix ‘em when they make up their mind to play up so I only mention it because it was a shame to lose Georgia’s vocals on what’s probably the catchiest song in the show, and it would have been harder for people that don’t know the story or show to follow along. This is not a criticism- I’ll readily admit that my own shows have been far worse for it. 

The ensemble were great and once again, some of the most talented kids in town were a part of that but I have to give special mention to Joe Fortescue, Zodie Bolic and Noah Taylor because their voices really stood out. I believe that the ensemble were a lot stronger in the first act than they were in the second though and that the reverse was true of the leads. The choreography they did was very cheerleader and suited the tone of the show fine, but I liked the ground work the did at the beginning a lot more than the free for all stuff at the end because that gave the dancers in the cast a real moment to shine and the focus and direction that some people need in order to do their best. The same went for the stage direction in general- the ensemble was just stronger when they had a definitive purpose for being there, and were cleared when they did not which I appreciated.

Yes the cast were definitely talented but unfortunately, there were a few snags in the production side of things, moments that a good friend of mind would describe as being ‘beige’ in comparison to everything else that detracted from the overall effect. The sets were minimalistic and that’s usually fine, I actually kind of love shows where there are no props or distracting backgrounds, but they went sort of all out as far as the White’s house went, keeping everything very creepy-house and gothic-looking, and then didn’t go to much trouble at all for the school setting, where the majority of the show is so I feel they would have fared better to keep it all more simplified or to have painted the white flats to look like lockers and had projected a school image onto the back. The tinsel curtains tossed over the white set pieces for the prom were done so carelessly that I couldn’t help but wonder why they bothered at all, and it’s a shame that one person didn’t at least sticky-tape them behind the set so they hung evenly because the effect was more annoying than anything else. The costumes were all right, but a bit too generic to be striking in any way, and I personally think the whole look would have been way more effective if they’d gone with a seventies theme that’s true to the original movie. That’s not what they did on Broadway no, but it didn’t work on Broadway anyway so why not try something else?

The visual effects used to demonstrate Carrie’s developing Telekinetic powers were very strong and effective at the start, with the dancing crucifix and shaking chair and when those tables went flying at prom and the doors slammed it was like: BAM and even made me flinch! But what most people would argue is the most potent scene of the show- when Carrie is doused in blood- was very anti climatic. I was in the front row and couldn’t see her at all, but even if I had been able to see her, they opted to mime pouring the blood over her using an animated projection that was too faded, out of proportion and ill-placed to look like anything but a cartoon gif of blood being poured over nothingness. Okay, okay I know it’s probably very difficult to pull of that kind of special effect on a stage that is not your own, but that doesn’t excuse why Carrie was positioned a good ten feet to the left of where the blood was poured, or the fact that the projection was such poor quality that I only saw it at the last second. They blacked out the scene so you couldn’t see what was happening until ta-da- she’s bloody and looked terrific once she was and the lights had come back up, but I think even pulsing red lights would have worked better than pitch blackness did because it sucked all of the tension out of the moment and went for about ten seconds longer than it ought to have. The same was true with the telekinetic moment went Carrie slammed the windows of her house shut- the projection was just so blurry that I think a lot of people only noticed because one or two others that had pointed upwards. On the other hand though, I loved the death scene at the end- the way Megan stabbed Carrie in the back was cringe-worthy and very believable.

I know that some of that is going to sound like nit-picking but I’m sorry, at the end of the day Carrie is a horror story so if you can’t get the dramatic tension going at the scariest moments you are going to take a lot of the power out of the show. That’s like doing Hairspray with a bunch of people wearing skull caps, or Singing In the Rain without tap shoes. If the projections had been better quality the fire and everything could have really wowed people but the whole revenge scene was completely dependent on the acting of the cast coupled with the finesse of the lighting crew, so thank goodness that they had cast as well as they had because Emily’s shaking with rage and the students’ deaths at that moment saved it from underwhelming, as did the band’s atmospheric music which I have to point out was spot on right through. Honestly mentioning these few details aren’t intended to be negative- I just truly believe that if a bit more effort had been put into it, the show could have been 5-star. On that five star note, the program was fantastic. They’re easy fixes too, so I hope if the production is reprised, a little bit more effort is put in to pack a weightier punch.

At the end of the day, I’m never going to associate Carrie as a story that has an anti-bullying message because it always struck me as being one about vengeance or demonstrating that two wrongs make a right, (honestly doing the right thing is the biggest mistake Sue could have made so there’s no real message there, save for a bucketload of regret) but there are enough touching songs in the score to make people care more about the characters in the musical than they would have in the book, and so the message of ‘What does It Cost To Be Kind?’ Does come through, but with a bit of a helpless undertone. That’s got nothing to do with the production company though- Stephen King wrote it to be a horror story, not a Hallmark after-school special, and I think it’s good if people took away different messages from it, mostly to think about what you would do if you could do things differently, so you know to watch out for making the same mistake next time you’re put in a position where someone else’s sense of self is put on the line thanks to your own actions. 

But irregardless of what you took away from it, the audience certainly seemed to have loved Carrie, a handful of anti-bullying campaigns profited from their association with it and I am very pleased that I went because once again the kids of Mackay knocked it out of the park so good on Triple Threat for taking such a risk by putting on this notorious production- and I sincerely hope that a lot of people truly are asking themselves what it costs to be kind right now or rather, what’s the pay-off for being unkind?

I’m sure that lovers of Andrew Lloyd Webber are going to be in for a real treat when they so Phantom Of the Opera in a few months’ time. 

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