‘Carrie – the Musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 9, 2017

‘Carrie – The Musical’. This 1988 musical was based on a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, which was in turn, an adaptation of Stephen King’s first and bestselling 1973 novel, ‘Carrie’.

Michael Gore composed the music, with the lyrics supplied by Dean Pitchford. This same twosome won an Oscar for their musical ‘Fame’.

King, who has just turned 70, has written more than 50 novels and 200 short stories. Having written plays such as ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘The Shining’, he is internationally recognised as the master playwright of horror. King also used the name of a minor character in ‘Carrie’, John Swithen, as one of his writing pseudonyms.

Phoenix Theatre Inc. and Dark Psychic Productions are proudly presenting this creepy and unsettling two-and-a-half hour musical in the Phoenix Theatre, Memorial Hall, at 435 Carrington Street, Hamilton Hill.

The show starts its chilling journey each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at 8.00 pm until Saturday 21st October. There is one matinée on Sunday 15th at 2.00 pm.

The show’s producers are generously donating the nightly programme and raffle profits to the Motor Neurone Disease Association of WA.

Whenever a TV or cinema story is enacted in the theatre, the expectations of the audience are high – sadly often, too high. The stage does not have the bonus of shooting each scene individually and having closeups. I know that Ryan McNally is now one of the key, community theatre directors, but my expectations for this show were not great. However, as soon as I entered the auditorium from the well decorated foyer – with Carrie themes everywhere – I knew I was in for something special.

 

The hall was dimmer than usual. The orchestra was lined along the auditorium floor, in front of the stage (a comfortable 3 metres from the nearest audience member). The stage curtains were open, and the scenery’s black drapes and walls appeared like a void. A couple of dim spotlights with hash patterns added the minimum light to the set.

The lighting design was by a couple of the area’s best, Alexander Coutts-Smith and Kate Lloyd. Here, with the cooperation of the soundscape designer and operator, also Alex, all of the teching worked as one dramatic, synchronised unit. Without wanting to spoil the story for those who do not know it, other than the fire and blood sequences, the lighting was minimal, often just picking out a single character at the side of the stage apron. This allowed the stage crew of Shaun Griffin, Sally McMaster, Alesha Kays and Sergio Gonzalez, led by production manager Alison Kovacs, to clear the set, unobtrusively and astonishingly silently. This allowed the musical’s action to flow smoothly keeping the tension and the pace at a gripping maximum. The show had several illusions and special effects which were MOST effective, congrats to the technicians.

The highly efficient stage managers were Daniel K Rooney and Eleanor Weller-Brown.

 

       From the speakers could be heard sad, whispering, eerie voices. Centre stage, a very dim light picked out a blonde girl, Sue Snell. Then, with the loud echoing clunk, of a power box lever being pulled, an extremely bright, white light picked out the teenager (Follow spots Thomas Dimmick and Beth Tandy). The police interrogation had begun regarding recent events. Within a few seconds, McNally already had the audience tense, apprehensive and curious about what was to come.

       After gym class, the final year students are in the locker room mocking the less attractive innocent pariah, Carrie (Olivia Rose McGavock). As the girls are showering, Carrie has her first period, and in ignorance thinks she is bleeding to death. The other girls, especially Chris Hargensen (Grace Chapple) the ringleader, scorn her mercilessly until the gym teacher, Miss Gardner (Steph Hickey) arrives. She rescues Carrie, and with the most popular girl of the school, Sue Snell (Ruth Bennett), explains the reason for the bleeding.

       At home, Carrie’s domineering and Bible thumping mother, Margaret (Cathy Woodhouse) insists that Carrie joins her in prayer. The mother tells Carrie that the blood is purely a sign of her sin. This treatment is genuine love and concern for her daughter.

       The senior high school students go out for the evening, and Sue tells her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Matthew Arnold), whom Carrie has a crush on, that she is very upset about what had happened at school. However, Chris and her dorky boyfriend, Billy Nolan (Daniel Kirkby) still think it is a great joke.

       Next day, the English teacher, Mr Stephens (Pat McMahon) and Miss Gardner insists that all of the girls apologise to Carrie, but when Chris refuses Miss Gardner bans her from attending the final year Prom. Furious, Chris is determined to get revenge on Carrie. Feeling sorry for Carrie, Sue begs Tommy to take Carrie to the Prom instead of her. When Tommy calls at Carrie’s home to ask her to be his partner, Carrie is very suspicious. However, when her mother forbids it, Carrie is determined to go and accepts his kind offer. Even when the Reverend Bliss (Andrew Dawson) preaches on the radio, Carrie is still determined to go.

       When Carrie discovers that she has telekinetic powers, she horrifies her mother with a demonstration. Margaret comes to the conclusion that to sacrifice Carrie may be the only way to save her from eternal damnation.

     At the prom, Norma (Izabela Wojtsik), Helen (Shannon Rogers) and Frieda (Dylan Dorotich), along with their boyfriends George (Zack Inglis), Stokes (Aaron John O’Neil) and Freddy (Benjamin Albert) are speechless when they see Carrie’s hidden beauty.

     At last, will the evening go well for poor Carrie, with her reformed friends?

 

The ensemble included, Jessie Williams, Nikita Harwood, Bernadette Ward, Jem Raven and Edzelle Abrio.

 

Ryan and his assistant director, Devetta Ridgwell, now have the well-earned reputation, of producing action-packed shows with attention to detail in all departments; and so now they can pick from a queue of quality talent at an audition. For several numbers, Kate Lloyd’s choreography had the whole cast, irrespective of their build, flawlessly pumping their arms and gyrating energetically to the rhythm.

The dance routines, the singing and the acting were all very well-rehearsed. Any hesitation or lack of concentration in a thriller can ruin the tension and effect.

Under the musical director, Krispin Maesalu, the musicians were magnificent with just the correct level of volume and at times allowing the soloists to sing practically unaccompanied. The orchestration was naturally set in a lower register, with no brass or reeds. The strings ranged from acoustic guitar (Chris Johnston), to cello (Amanda Reynolds), with double bass and bass guitar (Meg Vicensoni). The drummer (Jake Isard), thankfully, completely captured the atmosphere with a pounding heartbeat rate on the bass drum, and then a soft shimmering of the top hat cymbal. The musicians on keyboards, were Michael Baker and Aiden Bridges.

The singing was supervised by Krispin Maesalu and his assistant musical director, Benjamin Albert. The solos were mainly by the 5 or 6 leads, and each one sang superbly with clarity, allowing every word of the informative lyrics to be heard. A special mention for Carrie and her Mum, they could really belt out a song without straining the top notes, or becoming nasal in the rendition. Beautiful clarity and sensitivity. Magnificent performances.

The costume design assistants Chantal Wilson, Devetta Ridgwell, Alison Kovacs and Dan K. Rooney took Carrie from a frump to a princess.

The programme was another innovative design by Shaun Griffin.

The house was very nearly full, so I am sure that the season will sell out quickly. The Phoenix Hall productions are really putting the theatre on the ‘must go to’ list for audiences.

A highly recommended, professional production.