note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
The witching hour grows nigh over New England, casting its uncanny, supernatural shadow like a blanket, through community hill and dales. But no magic is stronger than British duo John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe’s deliciously witchy, devilish musical comedy,”Witches of Eastwick,” currently appearing at Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, Maine, the next two weeks. The playhouse was honored with globally renowned British producer Siir Cameron Mackintosh’s selecting it for his American Northeast premiere. The stage adaptation, based on John Updike’s 1984 novel and Hollywood movie starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, and Cher, originally debuted at London’s historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and is performed internationally.
This snazzy, adult, sexy two-act, all-new Ogunquit version, set in the 1960s during the sexual revolution, spared no expense in this extravaganza, featuring a list of theatrical who-who’s: Broadway star-studded cast and energetic ensemble of 20, including James Barbour portraying Darryl Van Horne, Sara Gettelfinger as brunette Alexandra Spofford, Nancy Anderson (originally from Needham, Mass.), portraying blonde Sukie Rougemont, Mamie Parris as red-haired Jane Smart, and Jim Walton, as henpecked Clyde Gabriel, along with Ogunquit’s favorite funny woman, Sally Struthers, portraying Clyde’s overbearing wife, Felicia.
Darryl, who has an underlying goal to his seduction and chicanery, convinces Jane to make potent music (and sex) with him in her solo, “Waiting for the Music to Begin;” convinces shy Sukie she doesn’t have to stutter and stammer or suppress her sexuality in her rousing solo, “Words, Words, Words;” and lures lithe, sensual, recreational sculptress Alexandra into thinking big, in her knock-out solo, “The Feminine Mystique”. The three women have been searching for Mr. Right in song, “I Wish I May”. They decide Darryl’s their man, and they’re willing to share him.
The story’s comedy and suspense escalates to a surprise ending, its climax exploding with thunderous stage effects.
Adding to the show’s supremacy, Ogunquit imported from London, Director Shaun Kerrison; London choreographer Lisa Stevens; and Music Director Julian Bigg, who, with his magnificent 10 musicians, sound like a full orchestra in every number.
Kerrison garnered several award nominations in Ogunquit, helming its prize-winning productions of “South Pacific,”“Sunset Boulevard,” “Les Miserables,” “My Fair Lady,” and most recently, its smashing, high-flying production of “Mary Poppins”.
Michael Schweikardt’s fantastic clapboarded set of the fictitious Rhode Island town of Eastwick, Paul Miller’s dramatic lighting and Jeremy Oleska’s crackling, thunderous sound effects enhance the plot, a farcical take on small-town, gossipy folks and three single women living together, who are the focus of their surmises. The three become the target of Darryl Van Horne, slick-talking, single, wealthy New Yorker, who paid cash for an historic landmark house in Eastwick, raising Felicia’s suspicion, despite his rousing, musical claim, “I Love A Small Town”.
Yep, that he does. Wearing a shiny black suit, bright red shirt, shoes and socks, Darryl is there to create havoc, seduce the lonely, underachieving Alexandra, Sukie, and Jane, while teaching them black magic and empowering them, while he taints the town’s suppressed folks, in second-act song, “Dance With the Devil”.
Handsome, tall and sexy James Barbour is one electrically-charged, testosterone-laden, devious devil, who captivates not only his three female followers and, later, the entire Eastwick townfolk, but bewitches theatergoers with his naughty, devil-may-care persona. Barbour’s melodic voice and slick movements make him a force to be reckoned with.
From her entrance on stage, Struthers garnered applause. Although British costume designer Dustin Cross’ power suits and tiny hats seem incongruous, Struthers‘ facial expressions, yelps, yells, and demands keep theatergoers rapt. It’s daunting to watch her chilling emasculation of her weak slump-shouldered, mild-mannered, cheating husband, Clyde Gabriel. But early in the second act, Clyde becomes enchanted into taking things into his own hands, sealing his and Felicia’s fate.
Also noteworthy are Joey Barriero as Alexandra’s son, Michael; Brittney Santoro as Clyde and Felicia’s daughter and Michael’s girlfriend Jennifer; straight-faced straight man Jason Perez, as Darryl’s manservant, Fidel; and 10-year-old Lily Ramras of Needham, as the scene-stealing Little Girl.
Last Thursday night, British composer Dana P. Rowe graced the audience, receiving hearty handshakes, hugs, and enthusiastic greetings from us Yanks.
I sat next to Paul Taylor Mills, a young, stylish Londoner, who silently observed every finite detail of “Witches”. During intermission he told me he’s a London theater producer, who hopes to present it in another London theater. “Witches” had enjoyed a full year’s run in London before coming to America. So, pray tell, what is so enchanting about “Witches of Eastwick”? Just about everything,
BOX INFO:American premiere of two-act musical comedy, appearing through Sept. 27, at the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St., Route 1N, Ogunquit. Tickets start at $39. For performance times and reservations, call the Box Office at 207-646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org