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REVIEW: "Carrie - The Musical" by Phoenix Ensemble

Phoenix Ensemble brings Stephen King's classic tale to life in a haunting and emotionally charged performance of "Carrie - The Musical." Set in 2009 Chamberlain, Maine, the musical explores themes of radicalised religion, power dynamics, and the devastating consequences of bullying. 


My evening kicked off with their signature cocktail, the delicious 'Bloody Carrie,’ setting the mood for the show. Directed by Joshua Brandon in his directorial debut, "Carrie" unfolds with striking intensity that reverberates throughout the intimate theatre space. Victoria Lancaster's choreography complements his creative vision, drawing the audience into the world of Chamberlain High. The opening number in both Act 1 and Act 2 sets a (misleading) joyful tone with dynamic movements and energy. Under the guidance of Hayley Marsh, the ensemble's vocal talent resonates beautifully throughout the theatre. The tech team created a balanced sound, allowing the band to skilfully complement the cast's strong vocal performances. Harley Roy truly stands out as the MVP of the production, taking on multiple roles of Stage Manager, Set Designer, Set Constructor, and Costume Designer. Roy's multifaceted involvement ensured a cohesive and visually captivating presentation. The set design makes use of every aspect of the theatre, from the detailed gym floor to the bloodied walls and clever props that heighten the tension. 


At the heart of the production, we have Chelsea Sales giving a brilliant performance in the challenging role of Carrie White. Her portrayal feels authentic and emotionally charged, masterfully capturing Carrie's transformation from a timid outcast to a powerful force. Her crystal-clear vocals and impressive belting abilities shine in solos "Carrie" and "Why Not Me" as she truly personifies the complexity of the character. Sales’ acting is nuanced, with every emotion vividly expressed through her eyes, from fleeting moments of joy to profound fear to intense hatred. Sales brings a compelling vulnerability to Carrie, making her both pitiful and formidable in the eyes of the audience.

Carly Quinn's portrayal of Margaret White, Carrie's controlling and fearful mother, is hauntingly authentic. Quinn's outstanding vocals and gripping acting in emotionally charged pieces like "When There's No One" powerfully convey the emotional turmoil of her character, culminating in (SPOILER) a heartbreaking climax as she decides to kill Carrie. 

Sophie Mason's portrayal of Sue Snell is equally compelling, navigating her character's evolution from harsh bully to a remorseful and selfless individual and eventual (SPOILER) lone survivor of the massacre. Her gentle vocals in the touching "Once You See" really hit home with their emotional depth. Lisa Alsop's portrayal of Ms. Gardner is a perfect balance of toughness and compassion as a guiding mentor for Carrie. Alsop's heartfelt rendition of "Unsuspecting Hearts" showcases her exceptional vocal talents and the character's empathy as she blends beautifully with Sales’ voice. 


Storm Fraser commands the stage as Chris Hargensen; a complex antagonist with powerful vocal performances, especially in the upbeat "The World According to Chris." Fraser captures the character's dual nature, drawing the audience in with a mix of admiration and disdain, much like the iconic mean girls we all love to hate such as Regina George or Heather Chandler. And I can’t forget Macca Kelly, who plays the devious Billy Nolan, truly embodying the hateful character through excellent stage presence. 


Kyle Armstrong's portrayal of Tommy Ross shines through his amazing vocal talents, a sentiment echoed by friends who have seen him perform. I had the pleasure of watching Dugald Lowis, who understudies Tommy, and I was touched by their performance of “Dreamer in Disguise.” Lowis does a fantastic job at capturing the kind and sincere essence of the character, which makes his eventual tragic fate even more heart-wrenching.


The musical numbers in "Carrie" are undeniably brilliant. "I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance" incorporated contemporary dancers behind a backlit sheet to add a visually stunning layer of artistry. "Do Me a Favor" really showcased the talent and cohesion of the entire cast, and the Act 1 Finale with Carrie's confrontation with her mother was truly electrifying and memorable. The climactic destruction scene is a tour de force of theatrical craftsmanship. It's filled with intense fight choreography, atmospheric lighting, alarming special effects, and plenty of blood to really make the haunting scene come to life. (SPOILER) The emotional depth in the portrayals of Carrie and Margaret’s deaths really leave a profound impression. 


Overall, Phoenix Ensemble's production of "Carrie" is a must-see for theatre enthusiasts who enjoy a thought-provoking experience. The entire ensemble and crew really kill in every aspect of the production, pun intended. 


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