BWW Review: BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE Does Not Quite Glow at 2nd Story Theatre
2nd Story Theatre in Warren closes its summer season with the 1950's comedy BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, which starred Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer when it ran for 233 performances on Broadway in 1950 - 51, by John van Gruten. At the other end of that decade, it was made into a motion picture with a cast featuring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novac, Jack Lemon, Hermione Gingold and Ernie Kovacs. Van Gruten had a hand in the book for Cabaret and wrote I Remember Mama, so the show has a pretty good pedigree. So much for the history lesson; how's this production? Despite some strong performances, I wish I'd liked it more than I did.
First, The plot: Gillian (Varerie Westgate) is a modern-day witch, capable of conjuring and performing feats of black magic. When she casts a spell over a bachelor neighbor, Shep (David Nando Rodgers) in an effort to keep him from her rival, he falls instead for her. Unfortunately for her, she also falls for him, and, as everyone knows, when a sorceress succumbs to the power of love, she loses her powers of magic. And I thought the law of gravity was strict! Further complicating things are her Aunt Queenie (Isabel O'Donnell), her brother Nicky (Charles Lafond) and the snoopy writer/debunker of witchcraft, Sydney Redlich (Susan Bowen Powers).
So what's to like? Valerie Westgate has extremely expressive face. Even when she's not speaking, you watch her to watch her reactions. This is also a good play for Charles Lafond-his Nicky is a well-dressed blend of outrageous and incompetent. The play itself suffered from a case of over-exposition in the first act but picked up steam thereafter. Ron Cesario's costumes are great, especially the fedoras on Shep and Nicky. Aunt Queenie's headgear seemed appropriately inappropriate. Jillian Eddy's set looked exactly like what I remember the fifties looking like. Was she working off a photograph of my aunt's house?
So what were the problems? I did not like Valerie Westgate's wig. I guess director Mark Peckham thought it made her look more time-period appropriate, but I was bothered by it. I also did not buy the romance between Westgate and Rodgers. I could see Lili Palmer falling for Rex Harrison. I could see Kim Novac falling for Jimmy Stewart. I did not buy Valerie Westgate falling for David Rodgers. Out of all the men in New York City for her to choose from, I could not see her picking him. Maybe I'm just jealous. A couple of times the special effects let the actors down, breaking the spell; maybe more could have been done electronically.
BELL BOOK AND CANDLE by John Van Druten runs Upstage at 2nd Story Theatre until a matinee performance on Sunday September 3 at 2:30. Performances are at 7:30 Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30. Running time is one hour and fifty minutes with two brief intermissions. Tickets are $40.00, $25.00 for anyone twenty-five or younger, and $20.00 for those who have the foresight to go on preview weekend (too late for this show). 2nd Story Theatre is located at 28 Market St., in Warren. The box office can be reached at 401. 247. 4200 or at www.2ndStoryTheatre.com. The venue is handicap accessible with lovely accessible bathrooms on both floors.