Wicked 'Witches of Eastwick' at Signature Theatre
Whenever you plan a seeing a new musical, there is so much apprehension. To start, the term musical implies there will be songs. What will the music be like, can you understand the lyrics, how large is the orchestra, can you hear the actors singing, what are their voices like, is there choreography, can the actors dance, does the book make sense, do the lighting, costumes, sets work, and can a director pull this all together?
Well, director Eric Schaeffer certainly pulls "The Witches of Eastwick" all together. It must be possible to assemble such an all-star team and not succeed. It's being done on Broadway all too often. But in the confines of the intimate Signature Theatre's Max space, does it ever succeed. What is the secret of Signature's Schaeffer's success?
First, you assemble a magnificent cast and ensemble. I'm probably one of the few who has not seen the critically acclaimed 1987 film of "Eastwick" which also had an all-star cast. As the title suggests, there are three bored woman who live in Rhode Island who express their desire "something more". Does "Desperate Housewives" ring a bell?
In the film, the three women were played by Michelle Pfeiffer (soon to seen in the film of the musical "Hairspray"), Susan Sarandon, and Cher. Here, the trio is comprised of three marvelous actors and singers, Emily Skinner, Christiane Noll, and Jacquelyn Piro Donovan.
Skinner is plainly superb as a zaftig sculptress Alexandra and you can see her rather "large" work in the lobby after the show. Noll's character Jane plays the cello and is delightful. (I remember her so well from "Jekyll and Hyde" and coincidentally, her leading man in that show, Robert Cuccioli, is currently in DC in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" at the Shakespeare Theatre). Donovan portrays the perky writer Sukie with great hilarity.
But if one song could best describe the terrific and talented Marc Kudisch….it would be from "The Roar of the Greasepaint…", and he would sing "Where Would You Be Without Me…" I recently saw Kudisch going through spring training for his role as the devilish Darryl Van Horne on Broadway in "The Apple Tree" opposite Kristin Chenoweth playing the role of the "Snake" during the segment entitled "The Diary of Adam and Eve". He would be a perfect Applegate in "Damn Yankees".
Not only is Kudisch a consummate actor, singer and a comedian, wait till you see his pelvic gyrations unseen since Elvis Pressley. And boy does he shvitz. He's so busy dancing around the polished set, you can see his shirt change colors from the sweat. I can't imagine anyone else in this role. This is a long way form "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". In the premiere production of "Eastwick" in London in 2000 where it got mixed reviews, Ian McShane (terrific in HBO's classic western "Deadwood") played Van Horne.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh had selected Schaeffer to direct the London "Eastwick" and decided to give him another shot hoping that an American cast would work a tad better…and he was so right.
Schaeffer works his magic with some terrific casting. Standouts include Karlah Hamilton as the conservative village leader Felicia (and who mysteriously suffers funny pranks at the hand of Van Horne and they often come out of her mouth), her milk-toast husband played brilliantly by Harry Winter, Sherry Edelin, the town gossip Brenda, Erin Driscoll as Jennifer, Brianne Cobuzzi as Rebecca, and James Gardner as Alexandra's naïve adolescent son (so terrific in the Signature's "Saving Aimee").
Whenever there are big production numbers, they are brilliantly choreographed by Karma Camp. Some of my favorites are "Dirty Laundry", "Dance with the Devil" and "Darryl Van Horne". I recommend more.
The score written by Dana P. Rowe is very enjoyable. John Dempsey (book and lyrics) brought down the house with clever lyrics and lines. The 11 piece orchestra under the baton of Jon Kalbfleisch sounds great (enjoyed listening to the three reeds) and does not overwhelm the actors thanks to the sound design by Matt Rowe and as in "Saving Aimee" the actors thankfully use amplification. The effective lighting is by Chris Lee and the clever costumes are by Alajo Vietti (wait till you see the red panties with a "D" in the crouch).
Sex seems to be de rigeur with recent musicals. The Tony winning "Spring Awakening" is "R" rated, "Summer of '42" at the Round House (which I thoroughly enjoyed) deserves a PG-13, and now "Eastwick" which if it was rated would demand "parents strongly cautioned".
"Witches of Eastwick" continues until July 15. Do not wait to get your tickets. Call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
One final note, reserve Saturday, August 4, 2007, when Signature presents their annual Open House with free musical performances culminating with a special outdoor concert at 8:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity to get a rare "backstage" look at the theater.
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Photos by Scott Suchman - 1) Emily Skinner, Jacquelyn Piro Donovan and Christiane Noll; 2) Marc Kudisch and ensemble; 3) Karlah Hamilton and ensemble