Carrie The Musical has become somewhat of a musical theatre legend. Based on Stephen King’s 1974 horror novel and written by Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the script for the 1976 film version of Carrie), Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore (who wrote mega-hit Fame), Carrie The Musical originally premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon in February 1988 where it received mixed reviews. The massive production included pyrotechnics, laser effects, automated set changes and a huge white staircase that descended from the ceiling during the climactic final scene. Script and technical problems plagued the production.
Despite the shows flaws (of which there were many), a Broadway transfer was soon planned and Carrie opened on the Great White Way at the Virginia Theatre in April of 1988 where it ran for just 16 previews and 5 performances, etching its name in Broadway history as one of the most costly and notorious debacles to ever grace the stage. It seemed Carrie The Musical divided fans and critics, with fans telling stories of actually seeing Broadways “biggest flop”, trading memorabilia and bootleg videos and audios for decades to come.
In 2012, a revised version of the musical was unveiled in New York, featuring a more focused approach on the story and practical effects. This revamped production received positive reviews, finally solidifying Carrie as a hit!
On this side of the pond, Carrie came home to the UK when a production opened at Southwark Playhouse in 2015 further solidifying Carrie The Musical as a formidable and enduring piece of musical theatre. Since then, numerous productions of the 2012 revival have been staged and the show’s legacy has continued to grow. The show has been the topic of multiple books, been featured on the TV show Riverdale and songs have been recorded on various albums. Amateur rights soon became available, allowing theatres around the world to bring this blood soaked musical to their audiences.
Now, Bromley Player’s Musical Productions is presenting their amateur production of Carrie at the Bob Hope Theatre in Eltham, offering London audiences the chance to experience this revised hit once again and make it a Night You’ll Never Forget.
As per the original Stephen King novel, Carrie The Musical revolves around Carrie White, a timid and socially outcast high school girl with telekinetic powers. Tormented by her classmates and religiously oppressive mother, Margaret White, Carrie discovers her extraordinary abilities as she enters adolescence. When a cruel prank by her peers pushes her to the brink during prom night, the result is a catastrophic display of her telekinesis. Secrets and suppressed emotions unravel, resulting in a devastating and unforgettable climax that leaves the town of Chamberlain, Maine changed forever.
For the Bromley Players production, Sarah Chapman directs Nancy Mae Banks as Carrie, Pat Adams as Margaret White, Emily Ruston as Sue Snell, Ben Macduff as Tommy Ross, Gabrielle Onyett as Chris Hargensen, Will Rye as Billy Nolan and Jamie Finch as Miss Gardener. Joining them are Ellie Mulhern as Norma, Naveah Hoath as Frieda, Megan Armson as Helen, George Morgan as Freddy, Charlie Johnstone as George, George Turpin as Stokes, Stu Collins as Mr Stephens, Joanne Frazer as Reverend Bliss and Maria Kaisharis, Shannon Mccarthy and Joanne Frazer as The Shadow and a group of fourteen make up a wider ensemble and dance troupe.
Carrie The Musical is an incredibly hard show to perform vocally and under the direction of Jeorgie Brett as Musical Director, this cast does very well with the material. All harmonies were intact and all soloists performed with finesse.
Jamie Finch as Miss Gardener gives a strong performance and her Unsuspecting Hearts duets with Carrie were lovely. I always found it disheartening that this teacher character survives in the book but in the film and musical dies at the hand of Carrie. Miss Gardner is one of the few people who are kind to Carrie and then Carrie kills her along with everyone else- #justiceformissgardner anyone?
Will Rye as Billy Nolan was every bit as dislikeable as we needed him to be, oozing toxic masculinity and entitlement the character in Rye’s hands was uncomfortable to watch and he gave a fine performance throughout.
Gabrielle Onyett as Chris Hargensen gave a strong vocal performance and her The World According To Chris was a fun Act One highlight.
Ben Macduff as Tommy Ross was delightful. The sensitive jock that in another life could have been Carrie’s beau, was performed by Macduff with tenderness and moments of humour. In the book, the bucket that douses Carrie in pigs blood drops and hits Tommy on the head and he’s knocked unconscious before dying in the fire. In the musical, Carrie kills him thinking he was part of the pig blood plot all along. I always felt sorry for Tommy and wish more productions chose to illustrate the former death- a kinder death for one who genuinely identified with Carrie.
Emily Ruston as Sue Snell was a triumph. Giving a confident performance throughout, Ruston handled Sue’s soaring vocal with ease. Commanding the stage, Ruston delivered a mature, emotionally fought and layered character which was a pleasure to watch.
Pat Adams as Margaret White gave a wonderful performance. An incredibly hard sing, Adams delivered a nuanced performance and her act two showstopper When There’s No One was hauntingly beautiful.
As our complicated hero Carrie, Nancy Mae Banks shone. Leaving no crumbs, her vocal performance was strong throughout with added modernisms that made the score her own. Her Carrie was heartfelt, emotionally raw and absolutely terrifying. A wonderful portrayal of a complicated iconic character.
Sarah Chapman’s direction made full use of the stage, balcony set piece and auditorium for this production of Carrie. Having cast enter through the auditorium was a fun touch immersing the audience further into the story. Although updated, the script of Carrie still uses language and colloquialisms that were common place in 80s America. Without an energetic stylistic approach, dialogue and language used in the show can become stagnant and I found this production didn’t flow as effortlessly as it could have. Without any practical effects onstage, use of three dancers entitled “the shadow” was used to move objects as Carrie’s telekinesis developed. A group of ladies sat behind us were very vocal throughout about not understanding what was happening plotwise, who these dancers were and why they were onstage. In a production that firmly identifies itself as a modern musical set today without an overall stylistic approach to the material, I feel practical effects would have been more effective and a better storytelling ploy than the abstract “the shadow”.
In the spirit of amdram, a large ensemble were used throughout to give everyone a go. Carrie’s story is such an intimate and internal plight that I felt the large ensemble often crowded the stage, muddying the action and pulled focus. This became evident when the named students (Norma, Frieda, Helen, Freddy, George and Stokes) were lost among the thrall and we didn’t get to know their subtle personalities as depicted in the script.
Jenni Rye’s choreography had the large ensemble dancing the same steps all together without motivation to do so, a style that fits celebratory shows such as Shrek or Rock of Ages. However, in Carrie, this style seemed misplaced and didn’t fit the naturalistic modern setting of the piece.
Like the 2012 reviva, the burnt out school set design was murky, creepy and multifunctional to create the different locals with ease. Metal ladders adjoined the set and I would have liked to see these used during the show, possibly during The Destruction as students climbed the stage to save themselves from Carries wrath.
Will Reeves’ lighting design made sure the audience could see the action throughout, however in a naturalistic setting I found myself taken out of the action when lights changed going into each song and patterned gobos were used without context. The sound design was well balanced between the vocals and the band and the sound effects used throughout were very effective. Both sound and lighting cues could have been snappier as characters were often left performing without a mic on or without light.
There is a lot to enjoy in Bromley Player’s Musical Productions Carrie The Musical. The strength of the piece itself remains the heart of the show and audience members could be heard singing the main Carrie refrain leaving the theatre. It’s the perfect show for the spooky season, offering a memorable and haunting experience. As the season continues, Bromley Players can take pride in knowing they’ve crafted yet another well-executed production.
Reviewed by Stuart James