by Laura Ferguson
Taking inspiration from the original Stephen King text and the film adaptations, Carrie: the Musical is a glimpse into the horrors that lurk in the halls of high school. When shy and unassuming Carrie White (Eryn Street) gets her first period, the girls in her class taunt her mercilessly. They are forced to apologise, but lead bully, Chris (Natasha Sime), refuses and is banned from prom. Blaming Carrie, Chris plots revenge, but is hampered by Sue Snell (Flora Lloyd), who feels terrible about how they treated Carrie and gets her boyfriend, nice guy Tommy (Konrad Makisi) to ask Carrie to prom. Chris’ attempted revenge upon Carrie releases Carrie’s psychokinetic powers to disastrous results.
Director Ben Emerson stays true to the 1976 movie in terms of tone, a glimpse into the horrors that lurk in the halls of high school. The snowball event that eventually turns into an avalanche; the girls of Carrie’s gym class taunt her and pelt her with tampons, the ‘good’ chiming in just as loudly as the antagonists. I am enamoured with the depiction of bullying in such a raw form and a foul sickness writhes in my stomach.
The musical numbers gust through me and I practically felt my hair lift like it would against a powerful subwoofer. Natasha Sime shines as Chris Hargensen, the popular girl who leads the bullying of Carrie. I hate Chris. I hate her for her entitlement and her evil lack of remorse or compassion. Sime does a brilliant job portraying this, particularly during the party scene when she confronts Sue for not backing her up. Eryn Street’s fearless approach to the role of Carrie White is awe-inspiring. Street’s first song performance in the play, in particular, is evocative and beautiful, that even through her vulnerability, her voice soars to show that beneath her shy exterior, Carrie is not sad, she is angry at how the world treats her. She knows she doesn’t deserve it and this really helps the transition Carrie goes through later in the play.
Musical director Michael Nicholas Williams encapsulates the emotions of the characters, using the music to twinkle for romance or crash into rage. I soften at the touching You Shine song of Lloyd’s Sue and Konrad Makisi’s Tommy; I curl my lip at Natasha Sime’s Chris during The World According to Chris; in which I also gesture exasperatedly with my hands at the instances of bullying and at the homophobia Chris’ boyfriend Billy Nolan (Simon Jackson) interjects throughout.
While I am loving the show, I have to ask, is it supposed to be a dark comedy or a tragedy? With many musical thrillers, the show uses the comedy to make sure you enjoy the darker aspects of its plot. On a scale of Rocky Horror Picture Show to Sweeney Todd, where does Carrie fit? As I watch, though enthralled, I’m not sure. The music and lyrics are definitely serious, but the choreography pokes fun at them, which I love with all my parody-loving heart. The upbeat, exaggerated moves that correspond to the opening number, In, for example, makes me think the show will be funny, with how campy the movements are. It’s modern jazz in a Broadway-style. Thumping the floor to prove how hard being a teenager is, unsmiling, and yet, *jazz hands*. The cast belts out the song with a strong sense of honesty, acting fiercely with serious facial expression, contrasting with the over-the-top dance moves. This juxtaposition makes me curious about how the show will go on. The privileged tantrum of it all makes me laugh, and laugh more when I see how somber they are about it.
The dialogue, especially by Juliane Bush’s Norma, is hilarious. Bush is flippant and nonplussed by authority figures giving her lines a lot of personality and verve. She’s a petty teenager “whatever”-ing her way through life. However, the show holds no pauses for laughter. It feels stuck somewhere in the middle of both sides of comedy and drama, and I’m wishing Carrie had picked just one and really gone all the way with it.
If Carrie had delved into comedy, I would have laughed throughout, there were so many opportunities to do so. But the music and acting is telling me they are ‘oh, so serious’. Like when it is rather obvious one of Tommy’s male friends, George (Max Nunes Cesar) has a crush on him. The physical comedy lends a desperate comedy to the unrequited love, but all the homophobic slurs snuffed out my laughter; I could only fear for George. Maybe not so good to use a gay crush as comedy fodder while never addressing the homophobia, especially during Pride month.
Then there is the final, climactic scene. WITCH’s production of Carrie: the Musical takes a dramatic turn from the original movies with what happens to Makisi’s character, Tommy, Carrie’s date to the prom and Sue Snell’s boyfriend. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it completely changes the ending in terms of Sue Snell’s reaction and she would tell the story to the agents. I’m not horrified, only confused. At the exact moment I most wanted to be glorying in the show’s most intense shlocky goodness, I instead pull back, mouth skewed to the side, wondering ‘Huh? How does that make sense?’
Tonal weirdness aside, I love this show. Carrie: the Musical is fun, powerful, and entertaining as hell. I love it’s blend of supernatural and natural horror. I love the cast, and I love the songs. I love that I’m still confused over whether I was supposed to laugh or not. Carrie: the Musical is enjoying a well-deserved sold-out season at BATS and I hope many others around the country will also get to experience this show. It will give me more people to gush about it with.