Review: Carrie: the musical (Hart House Theatre)

Photo of Tiyana Scott as Carrie WhiteStephen King’s horror classic comes to the Toronto stage

Hart House Theatre’s production of the named Carrie: the musical seems like a good choice for a young cast and an inter-generational audience. Bullying is a great theme, it’s got great visual possibilities because of its story, and the audience will have fans of the book and films offering a little leeway for younger performers.

A good idea does not, however, a good production make.

Taking its cue from the novel, Carrie: the musical is about Carrie White (Tiyana Scott), a bullied, deeply religious teenager, who gets her period and develops telekinetic powers. A combination of good intentions by former tormentor Sue Snell (Jacqueline Godbout) and a revenge plot by mean-girl Chris Hargensen (Madison Sekulin) collide with tragic results.

Let’s tackle the musical first.

Originally written in 1988, it’s a legendary flop. A rewrite in 2012 resulted in a more palatable show. For me, the book Carrie always felt like it’d make a great musical. All the blood, all the violence, all those maxi-pads, it just seems like a shoe-in for something very, very different when put to song.

Music-wise and, I’d argue, plot-wise, the actual meat of the original story—that it might be too late to help someone you’ve bullied— is stripped away for a strange, unearned message of hope.

But you can’t fault a production because of its source material. I do feel like Hart House Theatre was setting itself a near impossible task trying to make the musical work.

The result is—excuse the pun—messy, not just because the opening night was plagued by technical problems.

Director Richard Ouzounian notes in the program that he opened rehearsal with the statement “We are all Carrie.” Great idea, but I needed help as an audience member getting there.

Everything felt paint-by-numbers. The characters entered, sang their songs, left, and we were in a new scene. The direction seems to suggest that because audience members are in some way, shape, or form, familiar with the story that we don’t need to go on the journey with the characters. If you don’t want to take me to your emotional conclusion, then why do you need an audience in the first place?

Oh, there were compelling moments, like when Carrie’s mother (played by an utterly fantastic Brittany Miranda) first learns her daughter has her period and it leads to a brutal, well-staged moment of horror.

Or what about, in the words of my companion, “the last supper” staging of the song, The World According to Chris? We get an amazing disintegration of friendship between Chris and Sue in front of all the school, in a way that does mirror the last supper of the apostles, and arguably of the school.

These are moments in the two-hour running time and they worked because they used character beats, staging, everything, in order to raise the stakes and invest the audience visually, emotionally, and psychologically.

In comparison, so much felt bland and unearned.

My guest complained that the actors seemed to walk into their solos as if by rote, prepping only for the moment they sing and not for the story behind that moment. And we both agreed that this tied to the direction.

Why are they singing? What’s the journey of each character? I mean why should I see Carrie: the musical as opposed to reading the book?

For the record, I can’t give you an answer to the last question.

Everyone understands a story about high school and bullying, and Carrie is an iconic character, but unfortunately that doesn’t make for a relatable, compelling, or memorable show.

Details

  • Carrie: the musical runs until February 4th at the Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle)
  • Show runs Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm with a matinee Saturday February 4th at 2pm
  • Tickets are $28 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $15 for students with a special student rate of $12 every Wednesday
  • Tickets can be purchased at the Hart House Box Office, by phone at 416-978-8849, or online here.
  • Post-show talkbacks are happening on Saturday January 21 and Thursday January 26th
  • Pre-show chat is on Saturday February 4th at 1pm

Photo of Tiyana Scott with company by Scott Gorman