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THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

09-04-2009

The musical theatre version of a Hollywood hit arrived at Birmingham Hippodrome this week. Terry Wills gets out his pitchfork.

“So heed these words, and be careful what you wish for - you may just end up getting it!

Not my words, but those found in the programme outlining the story surrounding this touring musical production of ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.

Based on a novel written in 1984 by American John Updike and subsequently snapped up and turned into a glossy 1987 film starring Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarendon, Michelle Pfeifer and Cher, it made it’s debut as a theatrical musical in London’s West End, courtesy of legendary producer Cameron Mackintosh, in 2000 before embarking on a worldwide tour.

Taking in Melbourne, Australia, Moscow, the Czech Republic, Arlington, Virginia and now the UK. (Most important of these of course being the Birmingham Hippodrome!)

So what’s it about and is it worth seeing? Well if theatregoers attend expecting to see a typical ‘boy meets girl -boy loses girl - boy and girl make up and live happy ever’ musical, be warned - this is somewhat different and one that parents should think twice about before treating the ‘kids’ to a night out!

The story’s set in the sleepy town of Eastwick, Rhode Island where on the surface everything is sweet and rosy, it’s inhabitants prim and proper, and from beyond twitching curtains they ‘convince’ themselves that everyday gossip is far more powerful than the truth surrounding certain situations and relationships.

The guardian of truth and decency being the self appointed First Lady of Eastwick, is Felicia Gabriel. She who expects, no demands, everyone to agree with her restricted points of view.

Three Witches, Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, meet up and while idly chatting they admit they’re bored with their current relationships. Reflecting on casual sex, abstinence and Sukie’s own affair, with of all people, Felicia’s husband Alex.

This sad musing leads to them feeling miserable and forlorn whenever they see just how happy some people can be especially if they’re young and in love and in a deep reflective sombre mood they sing about the type of man they would like in their lives.

Oh dear. Hence the warning “Be careful what you wish for –you may just end up getting it”

Enter Darryl Van Horne, a man from New York who has purchased a large deserted mansion and is tearing down trees in his backyard. Naturally ‘First Lady’ Felicia is outraged at the thoughts that ‘her’ Eastwick could be destroyed, and decides to rally the citizens to stop him. Let battle commence.

Darryl without any hint of morals, scruples, or conscience moves in on Alexandra Jane, and Sukie who after initially, and fruitlessly, attempting to repulse his advances give in to their desires. But after submitting to his demands, they are horrified to discover he’d been sleeping with each of them in turn.

They plot their revenge determined to send ‘Devil’ Daryl back to hell but before this can be accomplished the curse of Daryl on Felicia results in more twisted bitter relationships, emotions, mayhem, and eventually, murder.

“The Witches of Eastwick”, for me at least, isn’t a show that can be termed as a traditional musical. Dark, sombre, and disturbing in it’s implications it also provides many amusing moments. And the individual portrayals are outstanding.

Poppy Tierney (Jane), Ria Jones (Alexandra) and Rebecca Thornhill (Sukie) as the Witches, and Rachael Izen as the bossy Felicia are played to perfection.

However outshining everyone and the undoubted star is Marti Pellow. He makes his entrance via the auditorium and immediately casts his own spell. Piercing eyes, a fixed stare on every member of the community, male or female, suggestive movements (to put it mildly!) and with an air of menace surrounding every fibre of his body he captivates the audience from first to last.

The result? A standing ovation from what was predominantly a female audience many who were fans who ‘fell under his spell’ as the lead singer of ‘Wet, Wet, Wet.

Not that he’s unfamiliar with playing leading roles in musicals. Receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of Billy Flynn in ‘Chicago’ on both West End and Broadway, and taking centre stage in a Royal Albert Hall production of Tim Rice’s ‘Chess’.

Certainly his role of the ‘Devil’ Daryl Van Horne will add even more to his impressive CV. His striking personality, dark smouldering looks, and charisma being a guarantee that audiences will always be under his own unique spell. (But isn’t that where we came in?)

The staging of ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ is relatively simple. A backdrop of interchangeable houses in the main but strikingly converted to the once deserted but now refurbished Van Horne Mansion.

For a musical there are not what I would term outstanding memorable numbers.

‘Make him mine’ sets the scene, ‘Dirty Laundry’ and ‘Dance with the Devil’ are visually eye catching while ‘The Wedding’ is a suitable climax.

The main drawback however is the sheer volume of the orchestration. At times it extremely difficult to understand the lyrics especially in the ensemble numbers.

But for those who came along to see and hear Marti Pellow at his best I doubt this would have been considered anything more than a minor irritation.

They’d enjoyed an enthralling performance, and accorded him a standing ovation. And that has to be music to the ears of any production taking to the road, and the relevant theatres on it’s successful touring list.

(The Witches of Eastwick runs until Saturday at Birmingham Hippodrome. Booking details at http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/)

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