by Lynn on January 26, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Michael Gore
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Book by Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Richard Ouzounian
Music Director, Giustin MacLean
Choreography by Amanda Nuttall
Set by Joe Pagnan
Costumes by Andrew Cleveland
Lighting by Siobhán Sleath
Cast: Matthew Beneson
Bevan Bűhler
Blake Crawford
Sarah D’Cunha
Paige Foskett
Stephane Gaudet
Jacqueline Godbout
Ryota Kaneko
Jordan Kenny
Sydney LaForme
Faly Mevamanana
Alyssa Minichillo
Brittany Miranda
Peter Mundell
Sanjay Pavone
Emma Robson
Tiyana Scott
Madison Sekulin
Meridith Shedden
Evan Sokolowski

At its core Carrie : The Musical is about something important, bullying. But everything around that core, from the book to the lyrics to the music, is shallow, superficial and simplistic. Director Richard Ouzounian and his valiant cast try to raise this dud and make it into something meaningful.

The Story. Carrie is a 17 year old high school student who is being mercilessly bullied by her classmates. She’s shy, awkward, innocent and naïve. They perceive this as weak and they pounce to humiliate her in as public a way as possible. To add to her difficulties Carrie lives with her single mom who is a religious fanatic who has not really told Carrie about the facts of life. But Carrie has telekinetic powers and after one particularly nasty trick is played on her by her bully schoolmates at the prom, Carrie gets even.

The Production. Director Richard Ouzounian keeps his production simple in order to focus on the theme of the musical—bullying. He stages the student body that bully Carrie so that they crowd her, hover, trip her and lunge when trying to frighten her. Carrie, played by a strong-voiced Tiyana Scott, cowers effectively when treated this meanly. She also has a sweet innocence mixed with naivety. She has been living under the thumb of her religious fanatical mother. That does have an effect on a young woman.

The young cast is certainly accomplished. They sing and move well. Kudos to choreographer, Amanda Nuttall for her driving choreography. As Chris, the main bully, Madison Sekulin takes no prisoners. She is ruthless in her taunting and harassing of Carrie. Sue is part of the pack that taunts Carrie, but Sue also has a conscience. As played by Jacqueline Godbout there are nicely conflicted emotions in this performance

In Joe Pagnan’s set the stage is bare for the most part except for a raised platform in the middle, where scenes are often focused. The stage is framed by banks of lights and again Siobhán Sleath’s lighting design is efficient in establishing mood. Only when things go off the rails at the prom does the lighting design ramp up—the scene is done almost in darkness with flashing lights suggesting heightened emotion.

Comment. I am grateful to Richard Ouzounian and Hart House Theatre for producing this rarely done infamous musical. Carrie: The Musical alas has an unenviable place in musical theatre lore as being one of the most noteworthy flops in Broadway history. It’s based on Stephen King’s first novel, “Carrie”(1974). It was made into a horror film two years later. In 1988 Carrie: The Musical , a big, brassy show, opened on Broadway to scathing reviews. It closed with a thud after 16 previews and five performances at a loss of $7 million. That’s a lot of money even in 1988. It was then drastically revised in 2012 by Michael Gore who wrote the music, Dean Pitchford, who wrote the lyrics and Lawrence D. Cohen who wrote the book, into a pared down version which focused on the theme of bullying and left the glitz behind, when it opened Off-Broadway. This pared-down version is the one playing at Hart House Theatre. Sorry, it still doesn’t work as a theatre piece.

The first five minutes of a musical should set up the mood, pulse and what the audience should expect from the rest of the show. In the first five minutes we have the song “In” in which almost the whole cast, but not Carrie, sing of their anxiety in fitting in, measuring up, not screwing up, doing the right thing not to stand out. It certainly establishes a lot of uncertainty in those young high school students.

But in the next scene they seem to forget all about their anxiety and as one ‘pounce’ on Carrie and bully and harass her mercilessly. The first song is a cheat and flies in the face of the rest of the musical. We never really see that uncertainty again with any of them, except perhaps Sue.

I found Michael Gore’s music banal and forgettable. Dean Pitchford’s lyrics do not reveal any depth of character and that superficiality in the writing is also evident in Lawrence D. Cohen’s book. Characters have no depth. Chris is just plain evil and soulless without reason. She does nothing unless there is something in it for her. She sees Carrie as fair prey because she’s weak. Where does this kind of kid come from? We never know in this show. Carrie’s religious mother is also one noted and relentless. Where does that come from? We never know. It’s all so simplistic.

Ouzounian and his cast are valiant in their efforts to focus on the bullying—such an important topic in this day and age or any day and age. But the material works against them. I am still glad to have had the chance to see >Carrie: The Musical and to get an idea of what all the talk was about when it became one of the most notorious ‘turkeys’ in Broadway history.

Hart House Theatre presents:

Opened: Jan. 20, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 4, 2017.
Cast: 20; 9 men, 11 women
Running Time: almost 2 hours.

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