BWW REVIEW: Ogunquit Brews Up Another Winner with WITCHES OF EASTWICK
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
Darryl Van Horne, James Barbour; Alexandra Spofford, Sara Gettelfinger; Jane Smart, Mamie Parris; Sukie Rougemont, Nancy Anderson; Felicia Gabriel, Sally Struthers; Clyde Gabriel, Jim Walton; Jennifer Gabriel, Brittney Santoro; Michael Spofford, Joey Barriero; Little Girl, Lily Ramras; Fidel, Jason Perez; Brenda Parsley, Julia Mosby; Rev. Ed Parsley, Randall McNeal; Gina Marino, Jenny Hickman; Joe Marino, Stephen Cerf; Greta Neff, Heather Jane Rolff; Raymond Neff, Jonathan Brody; Marge Perley, Marjorie Failoni; Frank Odgen, Tom Gamblin; Eudora Brye, Dawn Trautman; Homer Perley, Jeffrey Zicker
Performances and Tickets:
Now through September 27, Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main Street (Route 1), Ogunquit, Maine; tickets are priced from $39 to $89 and are available online at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 207-646-5511.Given the long and arduous trek from London to America's Northeast for producer Cameron Mackintosh's THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, one might think that this musical adaptation of John Updike's 1984 novel and the subsequent 1987 Warner Bros. film had been cursed. The world premiere was spawned in the West End in June 2000, and conventional wisdom would have suggested that Broadway was next in its sights. But after several revisions - first in a UK tour, then in Australia, and again at the Signature Theatre in Virginia in 2007 - a berth on the Great White Way continued to be elusive.
Now THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is undergoing yet another bit of tweaking, this time at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine. Could this high-caliber production with a Broadway-ready cast quite possibly be the charm?
Not having seen any of the previous incarnations, it's hard to know what weaknesses may have prevented the musical from achieving full liftoff in the past. Given the highly entertaining version currently shaking the rafters in Ogunquit, however, it seems that librettist and lyricist John Dempsey and composer Dana P. Rowe have finally gotten it right.
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is set in the lovely little (fictional) seaside hamlet of Eastwick, RI, circa 1967, where snooty townsfolk, led by the insufferable newspaper publisher Felicia Gabriel (a deliciously snarling Sally Struthers), give the cold shoulder to three unconventional divorcees: Alexandra Spofford, the seductive and statuesque sculptor (Sara Gettelfinger); Jane Smart, the buttoned-down and sexually repressed cellist (Mamie Parris); and Sukie Rougemont, the stuttering newspaper reporter (Nancy Anderson) who's carrying on a torrid affair with Felicia's husband Clyde (Jim Walton) despite her anxieties about being caught. When the three women get together one night to drown their mutual sorrows in significant amounts of gin, they unwittingly conjure the very man they yearn for while singing "Make Him Mine." Enter Darryl Van Horne (a sinfully slithering James Barbour), "as handsome as the devil yet perfectly divine."
One by one Darryl wins each woman over by giving her exactly what she wants in a man. He also unleashes in them their full potential, as women, artists, and witches. When their newfound powers inadvertently go too far and result in unexpectedly dire consequences, however, the women join forces to cast a spell on Darryl, hoping to banish him from their lives for good.
But once you've danced with the devil, does he ever really leave you? Or are you haunted forever by the changes he has made in you?
Dempsey and Rowe's clever and highly engaging book and score layer Eastwick's small-town hypocrisies with sex, sass, and wicked good fun. They also manage to send a shiver or two up the spine when things turn dark and dangerous in the second act. "Eastwick Knows" and "Dirty Laundry" let the ensemble of anything but neighborly neighbors revel in backyard gossip, while "I Love a Little Town," "Dance with the Devil," and "The Glory of Me" give Barbour's Darryl the chance to strut his stuff and mesmerize both men and women alike.
Parris lets her hair down, and climbs the musical scale to hilarious sexual heights, in Jane's "Waiting for the Music to Begin." Anderson unleashes a torrent of "Words, Words, Words" when her Sukie finally gives voice to her pent up emotions. Gettelfinger captures both the sensuality and longing in Alexandra's haunting "The Feminine Mystique." And all three dazzle as they seize their power and joy in "I Wish I May" and "Look at Me."
A secondary plot has Alexandra's son Michael (Joey Barriero) romancing Felicia's daughter Jennifer (Brittney Santoro), but it's almost superfluous save for the contrast that their squeaky-clean love provides against the backdrop of all the dirty doings going on behind closed doors. Nevertheless, Barriero and Santoro sing beautifully on "Something" and capture the subtle humor that their uncharacteristic presence wryly suggests.
The show is almost stolen right out from under the likes of seasoned pros Barbour, Parris, Anderson, Gettelfinger and Struthers, however, by a smiling, skipping, altogether creepy little Lily Ramras as the Little Girl. Serving as a cautionary narrator who embodies both the innocence and foreboding that clash full force in THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, Ramras enthusiastically delivers props to the leading players as if they were voodoo hexes. Her demonic smile and flashing eyes could make even Chucky hide under the bed covers.
Despite its R rating and tantalizingly sinful subject matter, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is as much old-fashioned musical as it is sex outside the city. Director Shaun Kerrison has found the heart in all four of his main characters and given them plenty of room to be honest and playful. Choreographer Lisa Stevens is equally at home whether staging a country hoe down for "Dirty Laundry," a slinky male strip tease for "Dance with the Devil," or a rockin' revival meeting for the Gospel-inflected "The Glory of Me."
Michael Schweikardt's stunning sets move easily from seaside clapboard salt boxes to backyards strewn with clotheslines to majestic waterfront docks complete with sailing ships at anchor to a shiny neon and chrome diner where the guys hang out after bowling. Schweikardt has also created distinct individual living spaces that define the four main characters: an attic conservatory for Jane, a book-strewn living room for Sukie, a potter's shed/studio for Alexandra where she crafts tiny Earth woman statues, and a red-silk draped bedroom for Darryl, the most important room in the historic mansion he stole right out from under the contentious Felicia.
And what would a show at Ogunquit this season be without some aerial Terpsichore? First there was BILLY ELLIOT. Next was MARY POPPINS. Now, thanks to the flying effects of ZFX, Inc., THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK don't need broomsticks to soar.
Will this production, or a version based on it, ultimately land on Broadway? Who can say? I suppose only "Eastwick Knows."
PHOTOS BY GARY NG: Mamie Parris as Jane, Nancy Anderson as Sukie, and Sara Gettelfinger as Alexandra; James Barbour as Darryl Van Horne and company; Nancy Anderson, Mamie Parris, Sara Gettelfinger and company; Mamie Parris, Nancy Anderson, Sara Gettelfinger and company