I hadn’t anticipated the amount of enthusiasm surrounding the CHMS production of The Witches of Eastwick. However upon my arrival I was greeted to the echoing murmurs of excited people, all eager to get their seat and witness what was quite easily the best show I have ever seen on stage. This may seem like a gross exaggeration, but anyone who went to the opening show last night will agree when I say it was like having our own West End in York. The quality of acting, singing and dancing was beyond what I could have imagined, and each and every cast member, orchestra member, stage crew, producer and costume designer had obviously put so much effort in to create what was a hilarious and sublime show.
The Witches of Eastwick is based on the novel by John Updike, which was adapted into a musical by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe in 2000. The musical is set in the small town of Eastwick, where privacy is a commodity, and scandal is a sin. There are three female protagonists, Alexandra Spofford (Martha Pothen), Jane Smart (Ellen Dunbavin), and Sukie Rougemont (Francesca Sterlini), who all share a dissatisfaction with their mundane lives and wish to the moon for their perfect man. Their wish is answered and their perfect man comes to them in the form of the charismatic, devishly irresistible, Darryl Van Horne (Andy Bewley). Easy to say their world is turned upside down, and not just in the bedroom department.
All of the scenes take place with a set constructed with oversized white picket fences and cotton wool clouds to represent the idyllic Stepford like town of Eastwick. Olly Wood (set design) used these fences as a useful mechanism for concealing the set changes in-between scenes. Particularly, they proved monumental in being able to give the illusion of levitating witches at the end of the first act. The props themselves were perfectly organised on stage and each one was obviously carefully placed for the aims of that scene. At this point I must give a comment on the costume and wardrobe (Jenny Anderton). It is easy in a musical such as this, with quite a big ensemble, to dress everyone in the same outfit but in different colours. However, each member of the cast had their own unique outfit, which proved to give each character their own personality, something which is difficult to achieve when in an ensemble.
Martha Pothen, Ellen Dunbavin and Francesca Sterlini’s performances as the witches of Eastwick were impeccable, individually they all perfectly embraced their characters and brought something unique and divine to their performance. Whether it was Francesca Sterlini’s ability to make her voice sound fragile in order to emphasise the lack of confidence in her ‘words’, whilst also being able to make her gorgeous voice fill the whole hall. Or, Martha Pothen’s apt use of body language which made her ability to own the whole stage seem effortless. This leads me to Ellen Dunbavin, whose performance of ‘Waiting for the music to begin’ was my favourite scene in the whole production. The scene begins with Ellen’s character Jane Smart having difficulty playing her cello, until Darryl Van Horne arrives and helps her ‘loosen up’. The comedic value of this scene was outstanding, I couldn’t have stopped laughing if I had tried. I think every girl in that audience wishes they were in her shoes at that precise moment. However, whilst each of these girls individual performances were faultless, what made the whole musical for me, was their interaction as a trio on stage. Not only did their seamless physicality on stage portray their whole hearted friendship, their voices in harmony brought goose bumps to my whole body.
Darryl Van Horne is by far the most likable character in the show, his swagger, confidence and sexual charisma is irresistible and Andy Bewler plays his character as if it were his own. His convincing New York accent in particular was consistent and very impressive. Andy’s cunning use of dialogue, with enough sexual references to make anyone gasp, was the predominant source of comedy within the production, he never failed to make me laugh. The simplest of actions were automatically hilarious when performed by him. The Dance with the Devil was my favourite number, out of many fantastically performed musical numbers. Darryl Van Horne was able to pass on his wisdom on being a Lothario to all the hopeless romantics in Eastwick.
Each voice in this musical was sublime, however one that stood out for me was Rhiannon Johnson as the town’s self-appointed first citizen, Felicia Gabriel. Her booming voice filled the hall, even with a few microphone issues you could still hear her voice over the ensemble. Her voice range blew me away, and each and every part of her performance fit in with the small minded nature of her character. Although she was partly the villain in the production, I welcomed every scene she was a part of, she was an absolute pleasure to watch and hear.
I cannot end my review without making reference to the choreography and accompanying orchestra. I take my hat off to Rebecca Adams whose brilliant choreography made every music number a lively and energetic masterpiece. It was obvious that a ridiculous amount elbow grease had been put in, not only by Rebecca, but also by the cast who danced every step to perfection. But what would a dance routine be without music to accompany it? From the opening scene, it was obvious that the show was going to be fantastic, the music enhanced the already vibrant atmosphere and allowed every emotion to be heightened throughout the whole show.
I really hope my review has given CHMS production of The Witches of Eastwick the justice it deserves. It was a truly enjoyable evening, and I can assure you, all of you will want to dance with the devil. So make sure you don’t miss out.
12th – 14th of February at 7:30p.m at Central Hall.
Standard Student: £6
Standard Adult: £12
Standard Concession: £10