BWW Review: I PUT A SPELL ON YOU: THE RETURN OF THE SANDERSON SISTERS is a Fabulous Hex at Le Poisson Rouge
Lock up your children, ladies; It's Halloween, the Sanderson Sisters are back, and they're taking no prisoners. Who would have guessed that nearly thirty years after its only moderately successful film release, the witchy fun of HOCUS POCUS would continue to cast such a spell? Indeed, it wouldn't be ghouls and ghosts season in the City That Never Sleeps without what seems to be an ever growing number of screenings, drag performances and tribute shows to the enduring 1993 cult classic.
But reigning first and still supreme, the scary talented Jay Armstrong Johnson and his splendiferous pageant for Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDS - I PUT A SPELL ON YOU: THE RETURN OF THE SANDERSON SISTERS, now returning for its third bewitching year is a sensationally fun and impeccably realized love fest.
For the few of you who didn't grow up with the movie on a continual October loop on cable television, HOCUS POCUS recounts the resurrection of The Sanders Sisters (Winnifred, Mary and Sarah) three Salem era witches who, in order to carry on their menacing trickery, must find a continual source of young souls to suck (let's call it youth juice as served with a side of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS).
The film isn't a musical per se, but with Bette Midler providing an indelible star turn and, naturally, one central musical moment that has since become iconic, the piece is cemented in our movie musical lexicon. Riding that wave, Armstrong and his team have seized the opportunity to bring the old girls back - this time to the stage - and in full rock star regalia.
The Witches, to be sure, are still looking for children, but this time they have some of the best Broadway talent as accomplices, and it's hard to imagine a more fabulous hex.
Led by Music Director Emily Marshall and an off the charts nine piece band, Halloween has never sounded better. With a set list that cleverly weaves favorites from the pop and Broadway catalogue, these Sisters (and their demonic friends) can dance their bones off and howl to the rafters. Flipping everything from Michael Jackson to HAMILTON ("The Schuyler Sisters") to Lady Gaga off their broomsticks and into the cauldron, the twenty two member cast of triple threat performers are electric. Special favorites include Darious Anthony Harper (as Hexxus) with a soulful "Toxic Love," "Call Me / (Step Mother) Bad Guy" as fiercely spun by Robyn Hurder as a Madonna worthy Wicked Stepmother with twins, Alanna and Claire Saunders as a dexterious pair of evil stepsisters, and Shawna Hamic who's driving take on "Leave Luanne" is spine tingling.
Supported by first rate production elements (the elaborate lighting by Rebecca Morris, costumes by DW Withrow and Wig and Hair Design by Chelsea Zaman and Bobbie Zlotnik all perfect), it shouldn't come as any real secret that the evening's biggest triumph lies in the twitching palms of the benefit evening's gifted creator. With constant raised brow, a towering hunch (and a perfect Bette Midler impersonation on those bee stung lips) Armstrong (flanked by power belters, Amanda Williams Ware as Sarah and Allison Robinson as Mary) is a vocal and physical dynamo. That the evening, from top to bottom, is such spindly spider web of success owes much to this Wizard's impeccable on and off stage leadership and playful style.
Now an annual New York tradition that's becoming as popular as, well the cult film itself, this year's haunt (two performances on October 28th) has sadly, like a bat out of hell, flown back into the night, but you can be sure these Sanderson Sisters will be back. And with such expert sorcery (and such a great charitable cause to boo) THE RETURN OF THE SANDERSON SISTERS is a delicious and magical brew worth waiting for.
Jay Armstrong Johnson, Winifred Sanderson
Amanda Williams Ware, Mary Sanderson
Allison Robinson, Sarah Sanderson
Heath Saunders, Billy Butcherson
Tiffany Mann, Master
Zak Reynolds, Band Singer
Nataline Hinds, Dani
Maddox Martin, Max
Kathryn Priest, Allison
Brittany Jenkins, Thackery
Darius Anthony Harper, Hexxus
Major Attaway, Oogie Boogie
Nicole Zuraitis, Cruella De Vil
Shawna Hamic, Luanne
Taylor Iman Jones, Vampire Girl
Ryan McCartan, Vampire Boy
Kayley Ann Voorhees, Pinocchio
Allison Griffith, Band Singer
Jennifer Reed, Band Singer
Robyn Hurder, Evil Step Mother
Alanna Saunders, Evil Step Sister
Claire Saunders, Evil Step Sister
Allison Griffith, Back Up Vocalist
Jennifer Reed, Back Up Vocalist
Emily Marshall, Music Director/Key 1
Shane Parus, Key 2
Dylan Schwab, Trumpet
Josh Plotner, Reed Doubler
Matt Sangiovanni, Guitar
Mark Ziegler, Bass
Trey Ware, Drums
Kiku Enomoto, Violin
Allison Seidner, Cello
Jamie Kiliany, Props/Projections
Amanda Raymond, Sound
Rebecca Morris, Lights
DW Withrow, Costume Designer
Bobbie Zlotnik, Wig Designer
Nicolette Gold, Makeup Artist
Makayla Benedict, Makeup Artist
Sami Sallaway, Makeup Artist
Chelsea Zaman, Hair
Photographs by Evan Zimmerman