A musical adaptation of Stephen King’s supernatural novel Carrie, which was a hit 1976 film, has just opened, and it’s very good!
It’s hard to believe that music could be used effectively to tell the story of Carrie White, a high school student who’s picked on by her fellow classmates. But the songs in the show work, telling the tale of this strange young woman, who lacks self-confidence and has an overprotective and very religious mother, helped by a super-talented cast who look like they have just stepped out of the pages of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue.
Evelyn Hoskins, in the role that made Sissy Spacek a star (as well as receiving an Oscar nomination for her performance) plays White. Timid, meak, and small in stature, she’s not like the rest of the girls in her school.
Carrie the Musical, told in narrative form by one of the girls who survives the climactic ending, opens (as does the film) with Carrie experiencing her first period in the gym showers. She has no idea what is happening to her body, and this gives her female classmates the opportunity to ridicule her, and to call her names, including Scary White. Carrie is angry about this, and uses her supernatural powers to make the lightbulbs explode. Meanwhile, one of the girls videotapes it and soon enough the other students are watching it on their mobile phones.
The female classmates are led by Chris (Gabriella Williams). She’s mean, evil, yet glamorous and very popular. She’s got a ‘thing’ for teasing Carrie, and the rest of her friends follow suit. Carrie is taken under the wing of gym teacher Ms. Gardner (Jodie Jacobs), who makes the girls reluctantly apologize to Carrie. All but Chris apologises, so Ms. Gardner bans her from the upcoming prom. Chris vows to get even with Carrie. Meanwhile Sue (Sarah McNicholas) feels sorry for Carrie, and feels bad for making fun of her in the locker room. So she asks her boyfriend Tommy (Greg Miller-Burns) to take Carrie to the prom. At first he says no, but then agrees to take her after Carrie is inspired by a poem he had written that he read aloud in class, which is one of the shows most poignant scenes.
Carrie’s mom (Kim Criswell), just about treats her daughter like a small child, not listening to her but praying for her sins and singing religious songs. She’s fanatical yet motherly in a creepy kind of way.
So Tommy asks Carrie to the prom, and she says yes, much to the utter dismay of her mother. There’s no surprise what takes place at the prom if you’ve already seen the film or read the book. Carrie and Tommy go to the prom and Carrie gets blood dumped on her as they stand on stage after being voted Prom King and Queen (with the vote being manipulated by Chris’s gang of girls). Carrie uses her powers to cause mayhem, death, and destruction, and it’s all expertly executed by the cast and crew of the show.
Hoskins is perfect as Carrie. Though while at times her singing is reminiscent of a watching a high school musical, she really comes into her own as the show proceeds, especially after showing some real emotion when Tommy asks her to the prom. As her mom, Criswell is superb. She’s Piper Laurie (who played the mother in the film) with pipes, especially when singing ‘ When There’s No One.’ Williams is fantastic as well. She’s the bully, yet she’s also the beauty. Carrie is Williams’s professional debut. But Miller-Burns is the standout among the cast. As the young man who takes Carrie to the prom, we see a sparkle in his eye, a richness and emotion to his voice, and he’s the perfect actor to play Tommy, the man every boy wants to be like and the man every girl wants to be with.
The stage becomes, from one minute, the locker room, then a class room, then Carrie’s dining room, to the finale – the school’s gymnasium where the prom is held. The dumping of the blood on Carrie’s head and the mayhem that follows is superbly executed, and extremely intense. Director and Choreographer Gary Lloyd has done an amazing job in putting together this production. Carrie the Musical, with music by Michael Gore and Lyrics by Dean Pitchford (of Fame fame), was a big flop when it debuted on Broadway in 1988 and subsequently in an Off-Broadway production in 2012. But with its London debut the show looks ready to hit the West End. Let’s hope it does, with the same cast and crew – it’s bound to be a hit.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.