“Carrie: the Musical”, presented by WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) 3rd year Music Theatre Students, is a musical based on a Stephen King novel. An interesting idea, to be sure, but how would it be carried off? While the production value is high class, with particularly impressive lighting design (kudos to Amelia Blanco!), fans of the novel and film adaptations may feel let down.
The first half of the play sets up the story well: Shy and introverted Carrie White (Heather Manley) , is traumatised by her violently religious mother (Matilda Moran), and the kids at school, but when she’s asked by the popular Tommy Ross (Morgan Palmer) to the prom, we see her chance to come out of her shell, before it all goes horribly wrong thanks to a bucket of blood and rage induced telekinetic powers. As lovers of the book, we are excited to have that sense of catharsis as we see Carrie take out her rage and frustration on all the horrible snotty students that had done her wrong, yet by the end we are left wanting more. Even the final confrontation with her maniacally religious mother is snuffed out with a final song (all of which were well performed yet forgettable) tacked on at the end, because hey, it’s a musical.
King has described the story of Carrie as having “…power to hurt and horrify,” and certainly we are expecting something intense and chaotic. However, what we are treated to is a pretty standard high school musical. Carrie’s telekinetic power is unclear, the violence of her relationship with her mother subdued, and the calamity after prom night merely hinted at. Rather than focusing on the title character, this adaptation seems to focus more on the characters of Sue Snell (who was well performed by Tayla Jarrett) and Tommy Ross. Palmer gave a wonderful, soft, and good natured performance to Tommy who could have very easily been unlikable. For the most part however, characters in general are stock, and Carrie herself seemed to be lacking. Her performance and voice was strong, but the writing and structure of the play means she is underused.
Despite the above, ‘Carrie’ does remain engaging. The staging is clever and efficient, with minimal props, most of which have more than one use. Costumes take us back to the ‘70s, creating distinct groups in the schoolyard, with appropriate idiosyncrasies for stand-alone characters. The interesting score by Michael Gore, and Dean Pitchford is heavy in juxtaposition and better captures the horror feeling of the story than did Cohen’s script. The live orchestration, led by David King, is fantastic – a highlight of the show.
Considering that this musical has been a colossal flop both in the West End and on Broadway, it was an interesting choice for WAAPA to offer to their final year Music Theatre students. Director Crispin Taylor does well with the material but the show itself leaves something to be desired.