The tune of teen trauma

Carrie The Musical (Wax Lyrical Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

January 21 – 30

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The story of “Carrie the Musical” begins humbly enough: its titular 17 year-old-high school senior, sheltered by her hyper-religious mother is ridiculed by her peers. Bullied to breaking point, she lets her teenage telekinesis evoke her revenge. The resulting bloodshed makes for a prom night to remember, and not in a good way, as most people will already know. Indeed, when the newly-named prom queen Carrie White (Sophie Perkins) celebrates next to her prom king Tommy Ross (Alex Woodward), audiences know what is coming next. Sure enough the bucket of pig’s blood teetering above is soon released, and credit to Wax Lyrical Productions for actually dumping the liquid on her head rather than resorting like some previous productions to using lighting to try and represent this most important part of the show.

As to be expected in its transition to theatre, the carnage following the pig’s blood climax is a far cry from the bloodbath of Stephen King’s debut novel. Rather, this version of the story has far less focus on scare factor, resulting in a reduction of suspense. Its emphasis is instead on the theme of bullying with Director Zoe Tuffin trying to turn attention to the timelessness of the story’s humanity. The result is a familiar high school scenario, with some added supernatural stuff. Although Carrie is the victim of her mother’s (Jacqui Devereux) religious mania, there is less monstrosity to her mother’s portrayal than in the story’s previous incantations, which is particularly evident in the pair’s shared sympathetic scenes and duets.

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In a nod to the novel’s device of using excerpts from books and articles supposedly written about Carrie White and ‘that night’, the work is bookended by extracts from interviews with the decent Sue Snell (Georgina Hopson). The story then follows as flashback, interjected with many songs of a range of musical styles to reflect different characters. The ballad-heavy result is a soundtrack that fails to deliver any particularly memorable songs to ear-worm their way into your memory, although the grand operatic numbers of Carrie’s mother Margaret are impressive, thanks to Jacqui Devereux’s powerhouse presence.

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The main players are all of strong voice. Perkins is perfect as the story’s complex female protagonist. She gives a staggering standing-ovation-worthy performance, soaring vocally in ‘Why Not Me?’ and capturing the Act Two innocence and nervousness of a sheltered teen finding her confidence after receiving a gentle but genuine prom invitation from Tommy, at the direction of his empathetic girlfriend Sue.

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As alpha mean girl Chris, Tori Bailey is another standout, delivering a consistent, assured and energetic performance, particular in lead of some of the show’s pop-rock numbers. And Hopson is a likeable Sue Snell, sweet but not obnoxiously so. The show’s staging is also notable in its use of both the depths of the Visy Theatre stage and its ventures into the audience. And Jason Glenwright’s lighting evokes easy transitions between frivolity and fear.

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Certainly, “Carrie The Musical” is a brave project, especially given its legendary 1988 failure on Broadway, closing after only a handful of shows. Stephen King’s book is widely known and Sissy Spacek’s career-defining performance in Brian de Palma’s film version is iconic. It is a text full of familiar imagery, not particularly suited to a musical adaptation, and especially not one featuring such a buoyant score. Although Wax Lyrical Productions has created a wonderful work in celebration of some outstanding talent, to reduce its horror to story of high-school bullying with some special effects, seems like an opportunity lost.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

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