Posts Tagged ‘Not Since Carrie’

Revew – Carrie the Musical – Southwark Playhouse

May 20, 2015

I know it was just last week that I was giving you a lecture about how I do make some assumptions about basic cultural literacy (regarding Death of a Salesman), and yet, here I am, less than a week later, having to admit I’ve never seen Carrie – the movie, the book, OR the musical. In fact, my closest acquaintance with it is via the book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. It’s this book that drove me to see the show, currently revived at the Southwark Playhouse, wondering what it was that made the original fail so badly; but then, there’s just the excitement and novelty of seeing a horror film/novel on stage – not some high-falutin’ literary stuff like Frankenstein or Phantom of the Opera, but an actually blood-and-teenagers quasi-morality rollercoaster ride.

Or, you know, just a really bad musical. I was in.

I got a big kick out of seeing, after many years away, a reproduction of the high school dynamics of my youth on the stage. The mean and popular girls, the stupid and popular boys, the constantly changing friendships … and, of course, the rejected geek. Oddly there was only one in this school – there should have been a boy or two as well (later to rise, Bill Gates like, from the ashes of nerd-dom) – but in the case of Carrie White (Evelyn Hoskins), we had a girl with the double burden of being socially awkward and also the daughter of a freaky hellfire and damnation mom (Kim Criswell). In terms of setting up the story, all of Mom’s blithering about how the day of judgment was going to come helped nicely to build a case for Carrie losing her self-control as the bullying at school hit a peak – although that’s getting ahead of the story – but Carrie’s mom also creates a sort of logic to Carrie “coming into her powers” as she hits menarche – it’s not an uncommon idea, after all, that being able to bear children is a sign of being strong. However, Margaret takes it straight to wacky town with her crazy talk about “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” nonsense which seems really unfortunate if you have a teenaged daughter with red hair that you perhaps resent for causing you to spend your own adulthood as a single mother. It’s definitely a bad situation for Carrie, who’s only real support comes from a well-intentioned gym teacher.

The gym teacher, however, in trying to manage the behavior of the girl bullies winds up utterly aggravating the more aggressive of the two – Chris (Gabriella Williams), a perfectly toned, tanned, and heartless blond that you know from the first scene is going to not make it to the end of the play. Her friendship with the one nice girl, Sue (Sarah McNicholas) seemed at the beginning like it was going to form more of a counterbalance to Carrie’s own unfortunate life – but instead, Chris becomes simply single mindedly mean, and the focus moves off to the romance between Sue and Tommy (Greg Miller-Burns, simply charming). Unfortunately, all of the high school kids wind up just becoming a big blur – and the feeling of hate and abuse I think that needed to be built in order for us to fully revel in Carrie’s explosion just doesn’t happen. I blame part of this on the fact the lyrics were so damned difficult to hear most of the time – and you can’t blame it on the accents because I should have been able to understand it all. And then the special effects bits that were supposed to help us “get” Carrie’s building telekinetic abilities nearly disappeared, especially from my seat in the corner. I knew something bad was going to happen, but it wasn’t built up to very well by the show, and the final disaster scene was neither scary nor moving – a bit of a damp squib in the end, possibly just utterly unsuited to the musical format.

However, what did work well was the fantastic acting of Evelyn Hoskins and the gorgeous voices she and Kim Criswell treated us to. Hoskins had be really believing in her as the lead character – she continued sympathetic throughout and just looked so fragile – and listening to her and Criswell belt it out had ten times the power of the levitation moments or the collapse of the gym ceiling. I think, maybe, we’ve got a case of a subject just being horribly mismatched to format. If it’s the duets that touch us, then let’s have more of them: but if they want to do an ass-kicking Grand Guignol performance, let’s have eyeballs being gouged out with corsages and people being run through with I-beam. Or something. The show is a bit of a mixed bag, but I can’t help but feel there’s something in it worth saving, maybe with an utterly reworked ending. Ah well, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it at last and I’m looking forward to seeing Hoskins on stage again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015. It continues through May 30th.)

Review – BLINK! … and you missed it – The Stag Pub

August 6, 2009

BLINK! …and you missed it is a show designed for the musical theater geeks out there … you know, the kind of people who read blog reviews of shows because they’re just that desperate to fill up their sad and lonely nights with that one little gem that they want to be sure they don’t miss and spend years regretting not having seen. For the more extreme, this may lead to trying to see … well, not so much the gems as the rocks, the big honking flops that go on to become showbiz legends. There’s even a book or two written about these dogs, so that those of us who missed their magic can savor the sweet pain of failure.

I, however, find little consolation in remembering a night spent yearning to leap over the other audience members in a mad rush to the door. I’ve seen a few flaming stinkers in my time, but I won’t seek them out deliberately. That said, there’s no denying that buried in the fetid pile of Shows That Did Not Sell are some gems of songs – no surprise when we’re talking greats like Kander & Ebb and Mr. Sondheim – who, shockingly, have not had nothing but a string of successes. (And, I am informed, there are shows that flopped the first time around due to “right show/wrong time” syndrome, like La Cage or even “right show/wrong country,” witness the early closing work of genius Drowsy Chaperone in London.)

So, for me, I approached Blink! as my big chance to enjoy some great songs – performed live – that I would have otherwise not had the chance to see on stage. That’s not, however, quite what I got, as the show had a bit of a theme and a goal, the theme being “highlight some big flops,” and the goal not being “play all of the great, forgotten songs that are wasting away in the sheet music for the turkey parade” (there being no excuse for playing “As We Stumble Along” from Drowsy Chaperone as it’s simply the lamest bit of music in the whole show). Some of the songs were simply meant to highlight shows that were examples of egregious lack of judgment on the part of their producers (i.e. Moby Dick, Side Show – about Siamese twins – and Silence, aka “of the Lambs”). Other songs were really great (“My Own Best Friend” from Chicago), some hinted at forgotten greatness (“Spark of Creation” from Children of Eden, which might have sucked as a show but the three women really sang up a storm). Overall, the shows were treated fairly reverently, rather than being made fun of, so if somehow a song or two you liked has made it in, you’re not likely to go away fuming that they brutalized or misrepresented it (well, except for the “egregious judgment” ones above).

In the midst of this, we also got to hear a song that was frightfully brilliant – “Everybody’s Girl,” lifted from Steel Pier (“It’s absolutely gratis/To use my apparatus”) – and a great performance of “When the Morning Comes” from Ballroom, which had sappy lyrics somehow redeemed by Elena Rossi’s singing. The high quality of the cast in general was fairly impressive, even though the mostly historical patter between numbers was a bit dry (if informative). Running time was not quite two hours with an interval, so I’d say this was, at 10 quid, a good way to spend your evening – and far better than actually having to sit through most of the musicals they were covering.

(“BLINK! … and you missed it” continues at the Above the Stag theater through August 16th, 2009.)