In a year where studios seem bizarrely eager to hide the musical parts of their movie-musicals (looking at you Mean Girls…) it’s great to see that love for musical theatre is still alive and well. I was delighted to sit down with some of the team behind TMT’s upcoming production of Carrie the Musical – director Makena Margolin, musical director, Erica O’Reilly, Musical Director and choreographer Grace Skowronski to talk about the show.
When Carrie the Musical originally debuted in 1988, it was, according to Margolin, “one of the most prolific, infamous Broadway flops.” Closing after just five performances, the show became a cult phenomenon, despite the fact that there existed no cast recording and no trace of the script. Eventually, its cult grew until the original writers decided to create the 2012 revival that TMT is working with.
So how did Carrie get chosen in the first place? The answer, in short, is Margolin herself. Margolin was chosen as director in July, with the production team being selected in September. Margolin says that she pitched Carrie to the Exec Committee “on basically a gut feeling because… I knew I wanted to do something kind of dark because [her last production] was so not. I didn’t know [Carrie], but there was something about it. I pitched it. Half the committee hated it. Half the committee loved it.” This contention only further convinced Margolin that it was the right choice. It took a while, but eventually the rest of the committee came onboard too – after nine hours of debating, the decision was ultimately unanimous.
This wasn’t the only decision that took a lot of deliberating. O’Reilly, the show’s musical director, recounts the audition process to me. Auditions took place over two days in September. O’Reilly explains, “we did vocal auditions, we did dance auditions, and then we spent a very long time trying to whittle it down. It was extremely hard.” Margolin points out that this was only for the callbacks, which were held the next week. That night, O’Reilly tells me, was when they had to make a final decision. “So we went to Burger King… and stayed there until 2 A.M. deciding… I’ve done three main TMT shows, and [I think] this year was the hardest show to decide the cast.” Margolin echoes the sentiment, explaining that with a cast of 37, a huge amount of talent had to be cut. Skowronski tells me “we get it because we’ve all been in a position of auditioning, and being on the other side. It’s like, you really sympathise with people… but you have to whittle it down.”
The work only increased after the cast was chosen. Margolin explains that the Carrie crew had an extra month to work with since they held auditions earlier than other TMT shows. They’ve been working on it since September, but one seminal time in the production/rehearsal period is Boot Camp, “a four day, nine to five rehearsal.” Margolin explains, “We’re a workshopping team. We will go back and redo something or rework it if we feel we can do better… We spent Boot Camp finishing the show, doing a run through. So we now have a good exoskeleton.” The actors also play as much a part in the creation of the show as the production team. As Margolin puts it, “at the end of the day, we’re not on the stage. They are.”
“Their production uses the same libretto and score as the 2012 revival, but takes a different visual approach”
The team also has so much love for the original Carrie novel. Margolin explains that if she ever had any questions when working on the dramaturgy, she would go back to the book, in her eyes the foundation of it all. As well as the original novel, there are two musical versions, multiple films, and even TV episodes. So what makes their adaptation special? For one thing, it’s not created by men. The team points out, nonjudgmentally, that when an adaptation is done, it is usually focused on a central theme. For Carrie the Musical (the 2012 revival), that theme is anti-bullying. Some other adaptations have focused on religion or violence. Margolin points out that the plot of the original novel is none of those things: “It’s a story about a girl with a period. She has a mother that called her sinful. She has peers that call her weird. She’s being told when she gets her period that it’s cursed, it’s horrific. Being a woman is bad… We’re not putting any feminist agenda on it. That’s the fucking plot.” Stephen King’s website supports her description: “the story is largely about how women find their own channels of power and what men fear about women and women’s sexuality.” At first, given the Irish context of this production, they considered a religious lens but once they realised this gap in the various adaptations, the decision was made. “This is now like, we have no choice. Not to say that nobody’s done it right before, but we have an opportunity to tell the story the way it was meant to be told.” Their production uses the same libretto and score as the 2012 revival, but takes a different visual approach.
The show is also grounded through the actors. Every ensemble member has a name, taken from the book. As O’Reilly says, “everyone has a reason to be onstage.” With a cast of 37, theirs is the largest ensemble in Carrie’s history – the show usually has around 15 cast members. Somewhat ironically, this is also one of the smallest in TMT’s history. The team I spoke to all agreed that alongside their exploration of the novel’s original theme, one of their adaptation’s biggest selling points is its ensemble. Margolin even recommends seeing it twice: “Watch it first, have the impact of it [as a whole], enjoy it. Second time, go watch our ensemble.”
Whether you see it once or twice (or more!), there is so much to enjoy in this production. So much passion and hard work has gone into the show and I for one cannot wait to watch it. Carrie the Musical is on stage in the O’Reilly Theatre from 14th-17th February (Valentine’s date, anyone?). Tickets can be purchased online at trinitymusicaltheatre.ie as well as through QR code links which will be posted around campus.