The Witches of Eastwick
A musical comedy by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe
based on the novel by John Updike
and the Warner Bros. Motion picture
Book and lyrics by John Dempsey
Music by Dana P. Rowe
Signature Theatre Company of Arlington, VA
June 5 through July 15, 2007
The American premiere of The Witches of Eastwick at Signature Theatre of Arlington, Virginia, is full of body-shaking thunder, raunchy behavior, and surprises. Gut reaction based on the performance seen June 17 says this show will make it to Broadway and be reasonably successful there. This musical comedy by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe based on the novel by John Updike and the Warner Bros. Motion picture with book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe originally opened at the 2,200 seat Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London July 18, 2000, closed February 24, 2001 and then went on to London’s Prince of Wales Theatre for a run from March 23, 2001 to October 27, 2001. Subsequent productions followed in Australia, Russia, and Japan. While its creators say that this musical about modern-day witches set in New England was not well understood by its initial audiences of Europeans and Asians, The Witches of Eastwick has enjoyed a favorable production history which began under the wing of producer Cameron Mackintosh, noted for his musicals Cats and Les Misérables.
Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer was the original developing director of this musical. For the American premiere, Schaeffer and his creative collaborators have made the story sexier and tailored it to American tastes. Two new songs—“Darryl van Horne” and “My Wildest Dreams” have been added while three songs have been cut. For the 260-seat Virginia theater, new orchestration was written to accommodate an 11-piece orchestra.
Cast in the lead roles are Broadway veterans Marc Kudisch (Darryl van Horne), Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Sukie Rougemont), Christiane Noll (Jane Smart), and Emily Skinner (Alexandra Spofford). Marc Kudisch Bogarts the show with the new song “Darryl van Horne.” True to Broadway performance demands, Kudisch not only can belt out the song and produce the exciting body and dance moves, but he also has the facial expressions that say he is the devil. And without impersonating Jack Nicholson, who played Darryl van Horne in the Warner Bros film, Kudisch does enough to remind the audience about why Nicholson is such a great actor. Act II presents a similar number led by Darryl entitled “Dance with the Devil.”
To be fair, this two-act show is about stealing thunder at all levels. Van Horne steals thunder from each of the witches by seducing them one by one and then letting them know he is involved with all three. The musical is threaded together by a character merely known as Little Girl. Little Girl, played adorably by Brittany O’Grady, opens Act I with an inconsequential statement that sets the scene for the town of Eastwick. Perhaps Little Girl represents the anima of the three witches—Sukie, Jane, and Alexandra. Toward the end of the musical, Little Girl comes on stage and says, “Poor Chicken Little felt an acorn dropping on his…” Before she can finish, Sukie rushes forward and shouts, “Shut up! Who the hell are you anyway? Scram!” Another show stealer who has markedly fewer lines than Little Girl is Darryl’s butler, the dwarf Fidel played with greatly expressive eyes by Scott J. Strasbuagh.
In this story about immoral behavior, everyone is under the microscope as always is the case in a small town. The song led well by the town busy body Felicia Gabriel (Karlah Hamilton) and which best captures the story of immorality is “Dirty Laundry,” which presents musically as a ragtime composition. Overall, the songs of The Witches of Eastwick are catchy, but vaguely familiar in the way many musicals that make it to Broadway can be. Also despite the themes of morality and sin, love and hate, male-female relationships, the story merely entertains. It does not enlighten.
Although the set design by Walt Spangler with its big moon goes for a minimalist landscape and costumes by Alejo Vietti can veer toward the lurid, the big technical moments involving flying are bound to satisfy everyone.
Karren L. Alenier