Review: Carrie the Musical. Regis Theatre Company. 5-7th Sept

Carrie the Musical has had a chequered critical history in the professional theatre world. Critics and audiences alike have either championed it or found it not to their liking. Early in its development it moved over to Broadway in a phenomenally expensive production costing $8m. Prior to that, and no end of rewrites upon rewrites, plus a creatively frustrating myriad of late scene changes and overly ambitious bits of flying sets, it opened at the RSC in a Stratford try out in 1986. The complex set  included a flying staircase that nearly decapitated its female star Barbara Cook playing Margaret White on opening night. She threatened to resign but continued in the production. This production was also beset with technical problems including that the crew were unable to re-create an absolutely essential special effect  with Carrie (played by Linzi Hateley) without damaging her microphone and giving her an electric shock. The 1988 Broadway production was a brief sell out. However, mixed reviews and the financial backers withdrawal of funds forced the show to close early losing its producers $7m thus making it the most expensive theatrical flop of its time.

In 2012, another extensive rewrite of the book by Lawrence D Cohen, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Michael Gore, from the story adapted from Stephen King’s novel, brought forth an Off Broadway revival which was a success and rescued the show from oblivion. The thousands of theatre goers who saw it loved it and a cast album was made. In 2015 an Off West End production at the Southwark Playhouse was produced with the theatrical story finally receiving both audience and critical acclaim.

Carrie the Musical has subsequently proved to be popular title amongst youth performers and colleges. It is this evening that Nottingham based Regis Theatre Company first present their production directed by Ollie Turner at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. Matt Powell is production designer and movement director with Charlotte Daniel the musical director.

The music and lyrics provide twenty-four songs to carry the story amongst the dialogue. These include Open Your Heart, And Eve Was Weak, The World According To Chris, Once You See, Unsuspecting Hearts, You Shine, Why Not Me? When There’s No One, Dreamer In Disguise, Alma Mater, The Destruction and a title which hopefully predetermines a stage success for this talented group – A Night We’ll Never Forget.

This sold out opening night audience certainly seems to appreciate the unique opportunity to enjoy a very good, full blooded production, of Carrie the Musical which is a great option to have on the local amateur musical theatre calendar rather than yet another bloody production of Legally Blonde. This piece by Regis Theatre Company, is totally blessed with the acting and singing talents of Anna McAuley in the difficult lead role of Carrie White. Anna McAuley nails every one of her songs and brilliantly brings to life the put upon and bullied teenager who lives a sheltered, religiously pressured life with her abusive and fanatically religious mother Margaret White (Kathryn McAuley). All this stress combined with being the constant victim of the local school bullies.

Kathryn McAuley deliciously underplays the severe mother with all of her straight laced movements, through terrific acting and deeply felt song. Her strength in depicting her character shows itself as a frightening personality that hides, tightly wrapped in a rigid body and mind, and who expresses no real joy in life. McAuley’s Margaret White is like an emotional pressure cooker that simmers away in supposed sympathy with her daughter’s plights. Then the top blows off unexpectedly releasing a torrent of pain and highly unreasonable behaviour. Her singing highlights are And Eve Was Weak and When There’s No One.

This production of Carrie the Musical is a super ensemble piece that clearly excites not only the young cast but also this totally gripped Duchess Theatre audience. Given our understanding of the short rehearsal period the directional and choreographic nature of the work is well executed and the group harmonies are very accomplished, as are the solo spots of various key characters. There is a strong sense of group energy and recognisable definition in the actors’ portrayals within the social relationships on stage.

There are some strong stand out performances from actors Ruth Knvieton (Sue Snell), Lucy Castle (Chris Hargensen), Andrew Bould (Tommy Rose), Emma Collins (Miss Gardner), and Adam Guest (Mr Stephens/Rev Bliss). The live band are terrific and really bring this piece to life with their top class playing and orchestrations.

And so to play with the nature of retrospect this production is certainly a night we’ll never forget. Well done to Regis Theatre Company for bringing something new to the table of local amateur musical theatre.

Carrie the Musical runs at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton until Sat 7th Sept. (No matinee production available)

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