Ogunquit’s cast and production staff have succeeded in crafting an adult musical that is both refreshingly new and multi-layered.
Something wicked comes to the seaside town of Ogunquit, but it’s definitely not Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” For the month of September, Maine is devilishly doubling for Rhode Island as the Ogunquit Playhouse conjures up the American Northeast premiere of a musical that is Eastwick-ed good fun.
“The Witches of Eastwick” is based on the 1984 novel by John Updike and subsequent 1987 Warner Brothers film starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher. Cameron Mackintosh adapted the film for London’s West End in 2000. The musical has since been performed in Australia, Russia, Brazil and throughout the UK, but Ogunquit’s rendition is only the second U.S. performance, and the first time the story has come home to New England.
For this new rendition, Ogunquit worked with British director Shaun Kerrison and the musical’s original writers, Dana Rowe and John Dempsey, to create a production that would stand out. Although still set in the fictional Rhode Island town, they opted to change the time period to the late 1960s, highlighting feminism and women’s liberation. “The Feminine Mystique” is a brand-new song, written specifically for Ogunquit.
“The Witches of Eastwick” is a mystical tale about three divorcees, Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart and Sukie Rougemont. Over cocktails, the friends fantasize about their perfect man in “Make Him Mine,” unwittingly unleashing evil on the small town in the form of Darryl Van Horne. His corruptive influence spreads rapidly, causing mayhem and death, until the three women realize what the source of their power truly is.
Ogunquit has cast a power trio of women to star as the musical’s leading ladies. Sara Gettelfinger is Alexandra, the deep-voiced, seductive sculptress; Mamie Parris is Jane, the buttoned-up music teacher, seething with underlying passion; and Nancy Anderson is Sukie, a tongue-tied newspaper reporter.
The three women deliver stunning three-part harmonies that are moving and beautifully highlight women’s solidarity. Each also brings distinct personalities to their characters that grow and mature over the course of the musical. They are individually showcased in the seduction songs, “Waiting For the Music to Begin,” Words, Words, Words” and “The Feminine Mystique.” Although separate songs, the orchestra, under the direction of Julian Bigg, ties the three together with shared musical elements, allowing their connection to stay strong.
Anderson’s performance of “Words, Words, Words” Saturday afternoon was awe-inspiring, with her progressively delivering the lyrics faster and faster, without skipping a beat.
James Barbour is unforgettable as the devil-like Darryl. His rich baritone oozes seductive sleaze in the role. He has the walk, the talk, the sly winks and the playful smirks down pat, and he clearly revels in every campy gesture and overt sexual innuendo.
The stage sizzles with over-the-top seduction and laughter as Barbour’s Darryl releases Jane’s pent-up passion on “Waiting For the Music to Begin.” “Dance With the Devil” is another standout musical number for Barbour as he slithers through a fantastically choreographed cast of corrupted towns people that are dressed in cleverly crafted costumes by Dustin Cross.
In total, there are 20 cast members in the production. Ogunquit has cast returning favorite Sally Struthers as the witches’ antagonist, Felicia Gabriel. The scene-stealing TV and film actress is perfect for the role, grabbing laughter with her trademark facial expressions and self-deprecating humor. “Evil” is a riot, and “Dirty Laundry” nicely features Struthers with a talented cast of townsfolk.
Those familiar with the movie version of “The Witches of Eastwick” will notice the musical’s addition of Alexandra’s son Michael, played by Joey Barriero, and Felicia’s daughter Jennifer, played by Brittney Santoro. The naïve couple brings sweetness and hope to the story.
Jason Perez has one line as Darryl’s sidekick Fidel, but in his case, one line was all he needed.
Ogunquit’s cast and production staff have succeeded in crafting an adult musical that is both refreshingly new and multi-layered. It’s an empowering story of self-discovery, piled high with campy fun and topped off with just enough magic to the leave the audience spellbound.
WHERE: 10 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit
DATE REVIEWED: Saturday matinee; continues through Sept. 27
INFO: 207-646-5511; ogunquitplayhouse.org