Carrie the Musical

Seymour Centre, Sydney, November 15

Hilary Cole as Carrie. Photo: Michael Francis

Hilary Cole as a bloodied Carrie. Photo: Michael Francis

How wonderful to finally have the chance to see Carrie the Musical – that most infamous of Broadway flops.

Based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel and Brian de Palma’s 1976 movie, it opened on Broadway in 1988 where it survived just 16 previews and five performances. It comes to Sydney now in the reworked version seen off-Broadway in 2012 thanks to independent musical theatre company Squabbalogic.

Not only is praise due to Squabbalogic for staging the musical here for the first time but they have timed it well given the release this week of Kimberly Peirce’s film remake.

As most would know, the story centres on Carrie, a teenage misfit with a fanatically religious mother who is bullied remorselessly at school. Life isn’t much better at home, particularly when her mother discovers that Carrie has begun menstruating and treats it like the proverbial ‘curse’ from God.

Discovering that she has telekinetic powers, Carrie eventually takes terrible revenge when the bullying turns decidedly nasty at the high school prom.

It would be so easy to camp it up but director Jay James-Moody has played it straight, directing a terrific production, complete with litres of blood, that hones in on genuine emotion and human drama wherever he can find it.

Despite the rewrite, the musical – with music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and book by Lawrence D. Cohen – hasn’t ironed out all its problems. The book doesn’t have a great deal of emotional and psychological depth, while the new framing device, which has nice girl Sue  (the sole survivor from the prom) telling the story in flashback via interrogation, feels clunky and unnecessary.  The lyrics, meanwhile, too often veer to the obvious.

The songs are catchy and the score rocks along, though the number in which the kind, sympathetic teacher Miss Gardner urges Carrie to open herself up to love (“Unsuspecting Hearts”) feels inappropriate and unlikely – particularly with intercut dialogue like “Listen to me, you have beautiful eyes.”

Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and felt for Carrie – here movingly portrayed by Hilary Cole in a very impressive Sydney debut.

Set in a burnt out gym, with tattered drapes adding a spooky feel, Sean Minahan’s set creates just the right atmosphere, while the telekinetic effects are nicely done.

James-Moody directs with a great deal of assurance and love, establishing a convincingly teenage vibe with his young, enthusiastic cast.

The most powerful scenes (and this is to do with the writing) are between Carrie and her mother Margaret – here superbly performed by Cole and Margi de Ferranti.

Margi de Ferranti and Hilary Cole. Photo: Michael Francis

Margi de Ferranti and Hilary Cole. Photo: Michael Francis

Cole is a real find. Petite and pretty, she makes a very believable transformation from dowdy outcast in baggy clothes– her shoulders hunched, her eyes constantly downcast – to blossoming Prom Queen. Her pure voice is lovely and she sings from the soul, really connecting to the lyrics so that your heart goes out to her.

De Ferranti is in fine form vocally and dramatically as Carrie’s bitter, fanatical mother, giving her a crazed air. Beneath Margaret’s avenging fear and Carrie’s desperate need to escape, the two of them convincing portray the needy love between them.

Adèle Parkinson is also lovely as all-American-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold Sue, with strong support from Prudence Holloway as bad girl Chris, Toby Francis as her too-easily led, loser boyfriend Billy, Rob Johnson as good guy Tommy, Garry Scale as wry teacher Mr Stephens and Bridget Keating as Miss Gardner, along with the rest of the ensemble (Tim Dal Cortivo, Jaimie Leigh Johnson, Andy Johnston, Monique Sallé, Zach Smith and Maryann Wright).

Musical director Mark Chamberlain leads a sharp, eight-piece band, seated in the balcony above the stage.

Despite the show’s shortcomings, Squabbalogic once again give us a smart, high-energy, engaging production of a rarely seen musical that musical theatre aficionados won’t want to miss.

Carrie the Musical runs at the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre until November 30. Bookings: 9351 7940

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: review

Formed in 2006, Squabbalogic is a nifty addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene with its mission to present local premieres of the types of show we wouldn’t be seeing otherwise.

The fact that the company is one of the groups behind Independent Music Theatre, which is taking over the Darlinghurst Theatre and turning it into a home for music theatre and cabaret, is cause for celebration.

Peter Meredith (centre) and the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo: Michael Francis

Peter Meredith (centre) and the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo: Michael Francis

The ambitious little indie company is currently staging Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – a rollicking, raucous rock musical by Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (music and lyrics), which tells the tale of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States who governed for eight years from 1829.

Nicknamed Old Hickory for his aggressive, no-bullshit style, he was a divisive figure who drove the British and Spanish out of the US, forcibly relocated the Native American Indians (massacring those who refused), took on the banks and positioned himself as a man of the people, forming the Democratic Party.

In the musical – which had a short Broadway season in 2010/11 after moving from off-Broadway – Jackson is presented as a cocky emo rock star, with plenty of charisma but serious flaws. Pragmatic doesn’t begin to describe him. Was he America’s greatest president or an “American Hitler”? asks the musical. Cast your own vote.

Combining rock music, irreverent sketch comedy and political satire, the 90-minute show hurtles along poking fun at narrative storytelling and American conservatism as it puts the boot into ruthless politicking – though it starts to flag a little towards the end as it keeps circling similar terrain.

The music ranges from the catchy, rousing opening number “Populism, Yea, Yea!” to a dark take on “Ten Little Indians”.

Though the writers had the American culture and political climate in their sights, it feels surprisingly relevant to here, particularly the treatment of indigenous people (and suspicion of any outsiders) and the political pandering to polls and public opinion.

Craig Stewart’s appropriately raw, rough-and-ready production, staged in a suitably grungy space, fairly explodes onto stage given the pumped, anarchic energy of the young cast. On one side of the room, next to the auditorium seating, there is an area where the performers have set up camp, lounging around on tatty chairs when not on stage.

The space is festooned with barricade tape and fairy lights that hang from the ceiling along with the odd pair of frilly knickers (set design by Sean Minahan). Other than that the stage is pretty bare. At the back of it sit the smoking band led by musical director Mark Chamberlain.

In tight black jeans, rock god bling and dark eyeliner, Peter Meredith brings just the right charismatic, sexy swagger to the title role and has a strong rock voice. Among the rest of the cast, all of whom play various roles, Jay James-Moody (Squabbalogic’s founding artistic director) is a standout, his comic timing immaculate, while Max Newstead is also impressive.

Some of the singing is pretty patchy and there were sound problems on opening night with mics used inconsistently (or perhaps not working when they should have done). But you can’t fault the rocking conviction of the cast. Overall, it’s an exciting production and a great opportunity to see a relatively little known show. Given the impending Federal election it’s also a neat piece of programming.

Squabbalogic deserves the support of anyone interested in musicals and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson ­­– which should have particular appeal to a young audience – is well worth seeing.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays at The Factory Floor, Factory Theatre until September 1

Independent Music Theatre: creating a new home for small-scale musicals and cabaret in Sydney

The Independent Music Theatre team. Left to right: Lisa Campbell, David Campbell, Neil Gooding, Michael Huxley, Richard Carroll, Simone Parrott, Michelle Guthrie, Jay James-Moody and Jessica Burns

The Independent Music Theatre team. Left to right: Lisa Campbell, David Campbell, Neil Gooding, Michael Huxley, Richard Carroll, Simone Parrott, Michelle Guthrie, Jay James-Moody and Jessica Burns

Yesterday’s announcement that a new, not-for-profit consortium of producers and organisations called Independent Music Theatre (IMT) is to run the Reginald Murphy Hall in Potts Point as a home for small-scale music theatre and cabaret has my heart singing.

It’s exciting news given the potential for the company to become an important and much-needed addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene.

Currently known as the Darlinghurst Theatre, the 111-seat venue was home to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company from 1999 until this March when the company vacated it to move into the new Eternity Playhouse in East Sydney, opening in November.

Having won the tender from the City of Sydney Council to become the next resident company, IMT will announce a new name for the venue in the coming weeks.

Describing themselves as a “collaborative partnership”, IMT comprises a team of organisations who already have runs on the board producing small-scale musicals and cabaret: Luckiest Productions (David Campbell, Lisa Campbell and Richard Carroll), Neglected Musicals (Michelle Guthrie), Squabbalogic (Jay James-Moody and Jessica Burns, who are soon to stage Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Factory in Marrickville), Neil Gooding Productions (who produced the Australian musical The Hatpin by Peter Rutherford and James Millar) and independent producers Michael Huxley and Simone Parrott.

Commercial musicals currently dominate the music theatre scene in Sydney – and there aren’t that many of those each year given the relatively limited audience compared to London or New York.

It’s not that Sydney doesn’t see small-scale, independent musicals but the productions are sporadic and scattered around various venues. Presenting regular shows in one venue will give the work a very useful focus.

Having their own home, where they can support each other, will also give the companies involved a better chance to survive and thrive.

Initially IMT’s audience is likely to be industry-based along with serious musical theatre fans but if the work is good a broader audience will hopefully follow pretty quickly. London’s Menier Chocolate Factory is an obvious model, whose success will doubtless be encouraging for the IMT team.

The chance to see musicals from overseas that would otherwise be unlikely to make it to our shores – whether that be little seen classics or more recent, innovative work – is so important for the development of the artform, as well as for the people who want to make it and perform in it.

Developing new Australian musicals – that most challenging of theatrical beasts – is  something that IMT will hopefully be well placed to undertake in the fullness of time.

It is a small venue but the IMT team are specialists in the field of small-scale music theatre and cabaret and should have the expertise and nous to choose the right shows and make them work in the intimate setting.

Neglected Musicals is already associated with the venue having presented terrific rehearsed readings of nine musicals there including No Way to Treat a Lady, On the Twentieth Century and Variations by Australia’s Terry Clarke and the late Nick Enright.

Stephen Colyer’s Gaiety Theatre (not associated with IMT) has also had success staging musicals there, including Hello Again and Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

The first IMT production is likely to be presented at the start of next year. I can’t wait.

You can find IMT at www.independentmusictheatre.com or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @IMTsydney