‘Witches’ tries to conjure up a future in the U.S.
OGUNQUIT, Me. — The film “The Witches of Eastwick” not only had star power, it had star Jack Nicholson at the height of his powers.
Based on the success of the 1984 John Updike novel and the 1987 Warner Brothers hit film, you would think a musical version would easily find its way to Broadway at some point.
Although the musical comedy “The Witches of Eastwick” debuted in the West End of London in 2000, it remains a work in progress. It has undergone several revisions and had success in both the UK and Australia, inspiring other productions in Brazil and Norway, but has yet to make its mark in this country despite a well-received run at the Signature Theater in Virginia in 2007.
Could a recent run at the Ogunquit Playhouse that — judging by the sellouts and strong reviews — be the springboard that propels it to greater popularity in the U.S. and, ultimately, Broadway?
The book by John Dempsey captures the essence of what made the movie so popular, and there was a lot to like in the recent Ogunquit run, especially in the cast, which featured a slew of Broadway veterans who presumably would be at home if the show ever ventured onto the Great White Way.
It’s also a great spectacle, complete with flying, magic, illusions and other stage trickery.
There are three equally strong performances in the roles of the three divorced women who are, in their own way, outcasts in the small fictional seaside hamlet of Eastwick, R.I., in 1967, just waiting for the man of their dreams to drop by.
Sara Gettelfinger is amateur sculptor Alexandra Spofford, Mamie Parris is Jane Smart, the cellist who’s not hitting the right notes with any man, and Nancy Anderson is Sukie Rougement, the newspaper reporter who’s carrying on with Clyde Gabriel (Jim Walton) right under the nose of his wife, Sukie’s boss, the hated newspaper publisher Felicia Gabriel (Sally Struthers, chewing Michael Schweikhardt’s delicious scenery.).
The divorcees gather for a booze-soaked sessions in which they wish for the man of their dreams in “Make Him Mine.”
Life goes on as normal until the arrival of a mysterious stranger named Darryl Van Horne (James Barbour), who buys a prominent property, arousing the ire of Felicia Gabriel along the way.
Darryl has his way with each of the three women in turn, and in the process helps them find themselves as women and witches. But their newfound powers may find them going too far.
Barbour plays Van Horne with tongue planted firmly in cheek, tossing off one-liners and making risqué suggestions. Darryl’s a bad boy — how bad, we’ll eventually learn — and we all know how some women are drawn to bad boys.
Struthers, who honed her comedic talents alongside Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton and Rob Reiner in the classic sitcom “All in the Family,” is to Ogunquit what Jerry Lewis used to be to France.
She serves as a superb comic foil for Barbour as Van Horne and she is comically aghast at many things, not the least of which Darryl’s dalliances with the divorcees, which has tongues wagging all over town. (“Dirty Laundry“)
There are hilarious scenes involving voodoo dolls with Struthers as Felicia coughing up everything and anything as the three divorced witches flexing their powers to make her life miserable.
Walton is fine as Felicia’s endlessly-put-upon, long-suffering husband.
On e of the subplots has Joey Barreiro as Michael, Alexandra’s son, and his romance with the wholesome Jennifer Garbriel (Brittney Santoro).
The score by Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe lifts off with some spectacular production numbers, including the aforementioned “Dirty Laundry,” which recalls the number “Dirt” from “Sweet Smell of Success,” and the company will literally dance with the devil in the number “Dance With the Devil,” where Darryl takes young Michael — and the rest of the men folk in town — under his wing and instructs them on the art of success with the opposite sex.
And yes, indeed, this is indeed a very sexy show, with the costumes by Dustin Cross aiding the charms of the principals.
Director Shaun Kerrison keeps the energy level high and never lets Barbour go so far over the top we don’t recognize the devil that’s in him.
In the second act, “Witches” will take a dark turn with an abrupt change in mood and tone. It’s so abrupt it’s a bit disconcerting, but if you know the book and movie, you’re ready for it.
Music director Julian Biggs and his orchestra are in perfect sync with the performers. What the future brings for “The Witches of Eastwick” is anyone’s guess, but most of the critical ingredients for long-term success in the U.S. seem already to be in place.
The Ogunquit Theatre production of the musical comedy “The Witches of East wick.” Based on the novel by John Updike and the Warner Bros. Motion picture; book and lyrics by John Dempsey; music by Dana P. Rowe; orchestrations by William David Brohn; direction, Shaun Kerrison; choreography, Lisa Stevens; music direction/supervision, Julian Bigg; costume design, Dustin Cross; lighting design, Paul Miller; set design,Michael Schweikardt; sound design, Jeremy Oleksa; projections, Shawn Boyle; illusions magic consultant, Matthew Holtzclaw; flying effects, ZFX, Inc.; hair and make-up design, Britt Griffith.