Review: HIAHP's Beguiling BEWILDERED
In BEWILDERED, the beguiling new musical (music and lyrics by Aaron Benham and Ron Weaver, book by Weaver) enjoying its world premiere, Gladys Kravitz, the high-strung, nosy neighbor from "Bewitched," is elevated from mere comic relief to leading lady faster than a certain witch can twitch her nose.
After Gladys (a superb Caitlin Jackson, who possesses a Merman-like voice and exudes a loveable, next door neighbor vibe) intercepts a letter he has been waiting on and discovers he plans to have her committed to a mental hospital, she races against time to obtain proof of her neighbor Samantha Stephens'(Elizabeth Morgan, who has Elizabeth Montgomery's charm, poise, phrasing and mannerisms) witchcraft, thus proving her sanity.
Borrowing an often used plot from the show, Samantha has agreed to her husband Darrin's "no magic" rule. To explain why two actors played the role on the show, Scott Sawa (the straight-laced one) and AJ Wright (the sassy, gay one) play her hubby Darrin somewhat simultaneously. Darrin's duet with himself, "I Could Never Get Away from You," is reminiscent of "You're Nothing Without Me" (from CITY OF ANGELS), but it works nicely within the context of the show
Samantha's mother Endora (David Cerda in a role not created by Joan Crawford, but for which he nonetheless appears destined to have played) thinks her daughter has married beneath her station. She strikes a bargain with her daughter: Endora will agree not to use witchcraft directly on Darrin and if Darrin fails to land a big advertising account, Sam and Tabitha will return to the witches' realm with Endora.
The account, of course, hinges on Sam pulling off a last-minute dinner for eight (without the use of magic, of course). Unexpected dinner guests include Endora, Smanatha's gay uncle Arthur (Ed Jones) and Gladys and Abner.
Jones steals the show as Unlce Arthur. His number "Let Yourself Be a Little Gay" feels like a big, fat Broadway showstopper and Jones milks every moment for its last bit of comedy.
Cerda also has two featured numbers and both of them are great -the very Kander and Ebb-esque"In Your Blood," in which Endora begs her daughter to not forget the essential parts of her identity and "I Made Magic" in which Endora looks back with a tinge of sadness on her past accomplishments (which include introducing Adam to Steve before Eve came along and screwed everything up).
Despite the similarity between the show's logo and WICKED, this isn't a complete flip of the material from another character's perspective. Though a parody, the script follows the original show's premise and situations almost too slavishly. Your affinity for the production may depend on your familiarity with the source material.
Few but for the most ardent of fans may remember, for instance, that The Stephens clan had two children -the budding witch Tabitha (played here with much spunk and heart by Robert Williams) and the very non-magical Adam. Adam was never truly developed as a character on the show and his inclusion here (in the form of a pumpkin wearing a bib that spells out his name) is a bit of a head-scratcher.
It's also unclear why Weaver thought to include Louise Tate -the wife of Darrin's boss. On the show, Louise was Samantha's best friend. Portrayed here by Williams as a drunk housewife, the character's inclusion seems mainly here to set up a few jokes about Williams having to make quick costume changes to appear as both Louise and Tabitha. The character could easily be cut from the script without affecting the overall show.
Gladys' antagonist husband Abner Kravits (Matt Miles) is also under-developed. Essentially, he is fed up with having to constantly move over his wife's seemingly crazy accusations (which, cleverly involve several characters from other strange and magical classic TV shows) and is less than thrilled when she begins to report strange going-ons at the Stephens' house on 1164 Morning Glory Circle. His big number "When We First Met," is purposely underdeveloped and probably shouldn't be. There are certainly plenty of laughs in the show and the song feels like a missed opportunity.
With a few tweaks by the show's writing team, the show could really soar. No broom needed.
Fans of Hell in a Handbag's signature style of camp theater will fall under the spell of "Bewildered," though.
Hell in a Handbag Productions' BEWILDERED runs through Nov. 11 at Stage 773. Tickets $34-$39. 773.327.5252. handbagproductions.org