Carrie: The Musical is based on the Stephen King novel and classic horror movie. While both the novel and the movie highlighted the paranormal, this version produced by the Mask and Dagger Dramatic Society at University of New Hampshire was designed to focus more on the bullying facets while downplaying the paranormal. Subsequently, the technical aspects surrounding the paranormal events were weak and left the audience underwhelmed.
This bare bones production featured a number of strong ensemble pieces including the opening number which had the cast coming out from the audience. Unfortunately, they later retreated to their seats in the audience where more than one broke character whilst they also used that space to change their clothes, as if the rest of the audience couldn’t see them, detracting from the scene occurring on stage. The special lighting on Sue during her interrogation scenes should have been placed more on her face rather than above/behind her especially considering, in one of her lines, she requests that the light be removed from her face because she couldn’t see. It is here that I look to the creative team and suggest that they pay more detailed attention to lines in the script that specify lighting or scenic aspects.
The three piece band was located off stage behind the scenes yet many of the female singers were drowned out by the band on their solos unlike the male vocalists who were strong throughout. Projection in the small black box theatre space should not have been a problem. Nevertheless, several of the performers struggled with their pitch, projection and diction throughout the performance.
Thankfully two of the lead characters were perfectly cast and acted as the glue that held the production together. Sue, played by Teghan Kelly, and Tommy, played by Taylor Morrow, were on point with their characters and vocals throughout the production. They had a believable and well developed connection that culminated in their duet in Act 2 that was heartfelt and beautifully sung. Marrow’s voice was also showcased in his short solo number in Act 1: “Dreamer in Disguise”. Kelly, who almost never (if ever) left the stage in the two hour production, was in character and engaged with each scene as they played out; even those she was not directly in. Her voice was vibrant and commanding each time she sang and she clearly embodied her complex character.
The director, Brooke Snow, explained in the production sheet that “Carrie: The Musical” is “really a story about the effects that bullying can have on someone’s life”. While they did downplay the paranormal, they did not downplay the "religious fanaticism" of the mother. The mother, played well by Rachel Noland, was a strong religious fanatic whose warped knowledge of Christianity offered her justification for abusing her daughter. Carrie was played by Sam Trottier who effectively showed Carrie as a mousey, naïve girl but missed the mark when expressing an enraged, out of control victim getting her revenge in the prom scene. The caring and sympathetic gym teacher was played competently by Hadley Withington, though her costume and hair style did not differentiate her as older and more mature than the students she reprimanded.
In the book and the movie, Carrie’s demonic paranormal powers are a direct response to her mother’s controlling, irrational, extreme view of religion. In my opinion, the two extremes go hand in hand. To lessen the focus on Carrie’s paranormal abilities, which culminate in the terrifying and deadly prom scene, risks giving the musical an uneven feel. The way the power was presented at the prom was underwhelming and anticlimactic. The room went dark when the bucket of blood was to be spilt over Carrie and the lights returned to find her wet with a very light colored liquid that did not resemble blood at all. It was then literally difficult to watch Carrie’s rage unfold with the addition of the strobe lighting which did not enhance the scene as was perhaps intended.
Mask & Dagger’s goal as stated in their production sheet is “to use these works of theatre to provoke thought, test ideas, and broaden perspectives on the UNH campus”. To that end, with this performance as a public service piece, they have met their goals.
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