BWW Reviews: Creative Cauldron's Broaday-Style Musical of THE TURN OF THE SCREW A True Talent Showcase

BWW Reviews: Creative Cauldron's Broaday-Style Musical of THE TURN OF THE SCREW A True Talent Showcase

Move over, Eric Schaeffer; there's a new musical venue in town, it's got tremendous talent, it's intimate, and-wonder of wonders-it's just over the border in Falls Church. To make things even sweeter, the joint is also commissioning new works for local artists.

In the first of what looks to be a promising series of new ventures, Creative Cauldron has embarked on its own five-year plan, fittingly entitled "Bold New Works for Intimate Stages." As its name suggests, the goal is to expand the repertoire of small-stage shows, with an emphasis on performers with musical chops - and as anyone who hasn't been in a cave the last few years might have gathered, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of musical performers here in Northern Virginia.

For its first commission, Creative Cauldron chose composer Matt Conner and lyricist Stephen Gregory Smith to create and direct a new musical based on Henry James' classic macabre tale, The Turn of the Screw. Set within the creepy confines of Bly House, the action centers upon a governess, two orphans, their housekeeper, and a pair of ghosts; all have deep, dark secrets, and as the horror unfolds the governess finds herself trapped and struggling against Bly House's demons. The reader is left to ponder whether the story is "real," or whether the governess' ravings, related second-hand, are the product of a fevered mind.

The performances here are terrific, beginning with Susan Derry as the governess Miss Giddens. Derry navigates the optimism and stark terror of the story with aplomb; opposite Derry is the ever-redoubtable Sherri L. Edelen as the housekeeper Mrs. Grose. Edelen is in fine form (and perfect dialect) as the voluble Irish servant, who only reluctantly reveals, a bit, the darkness within.

The two little darlings/demons, Flora and Miles, are played by Libby Brooke and Ethan Miller. Brooke's part is the more difficult of the two, in that she has to play the simple little girl even as ghosts and evil swirl around her; you'll have to decide for yourself whether she's as innocent as she appears. Miller, on the other hand, has by far the creepiest role of them all, a young man who clearly has seen entirely too much of life and is more than happy to teach Miss Giddens a trick or two. His soft voice belies a menace that is present every time he comes into the room.

Ryan Sellers and Caitlin Shea are our spectral cast members, Quint and Miss Jessel (the former governess). Their fates are of course intertwined, and the horrors they both witnessed and inflicted are discreetly hinted at through some deft choreography.

Margie Jervis has made the most of the Cauldron's small confines, with an appropriately spectral set of white furnishings draped in white sheets-with big splashes of red for the children's puppet theatre. John Sami's lighting skillfully follows the many moods, twists and turns of the plot, and Alvin Smithson leads a small but nicely-instrumented orchestra (hid discreetly backstage).

For fans of Broadway musicals, this version of The Turn of the Screw is not to be missed; the melodies are compelling and beautifully executed here. For those with different, more classical musical tastes, you might wish for a more adventurous score. This being a first run, it will be interesting to see where Conner and Smith go with this material; they have a solid foundation to build upon, and I would hope they exploit the potential here for further exploration of ghostly, surreal leitmotifs and dissonant reprises. An evening devoted strictly to major and minor keys is wonderful, but there could be so much more. I eagerly await the sequel!

Production Photo: Libby Brooke (Flora) and Susan Derry (Miss Giddens). Photo courtesy of Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission

Performances are January 30-February 22 at the Creative Cauldron, 410 S Maple Ave, Falls Church, VA. Tickets can be ordered by calling 703-436-9948 or at:

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From This Author Andrew White

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