The Witches of Eastwick
Walking into the foyer of Elwood College’s Phoenix Theatre, one could be mistaken for thinking that you’ve just walked onstage in a community theatre show yourself. The décor screams, “I’m a set!”. The front of house staff all looked great in their bow ties, and the usher was dressed in the quintessential pointy witch’s hat.
Having seen The Witches of Eastwick performed professionally (with Paul McDermott and Marina Prior) and Catchment’s production a few years ago, the bar was set high for MLOC.
Opening night produced a full house with quite an audible buzz from a generally older audience. Knowing the content of the show, I wondered how it would go down with this demographic, but I needn’t have worried!
Our seats were towards the back of the auditorium on prompt side. This placed us right next to the audio desk which as open to the auditorium. This proved quite a distraction during the show with plenty of ambient light spill and noisy page turns.
Cue the overture. Unfortunately, the drums sounded incredibly muffled initially (the show normally starts with timpani), and the intonation from the winds was inaccurate. These problems sorted themselves as the show progressed. The musical director Martine Wengrow has put together a great orchestra – very well-rehearsed, and sensitive to dynamics in an exposed pit.
The show starts with 12-year old Lily Nicolson (playing Little Girl) singing solo. Her vocal production was great. Her American theatre accent was authentic, which set a strong precedent for the entire cast’s ability to maintain the accent. Nicolson was strong throughout the show, and is sure to hone her craft further by addressing common issues like use of peripheral vision to watch the MD.
Enter the ladies and men of Eastwick, and by jove, did they come on in masses. This ensemble numbered over thirty which, though vocally effective, cluttered the stage throughout the show. Blocking and aesthetics might have proven easier with six to eight less cast members on stage at any given time. Vocally, the cast was great: their timing, intonation, harmonies and dynamics were spot on – very sensitive to the array of musical genres within the show. What really impressed me was the diverse range of ages, with the youngest being in early teens to a very spritely lady, who has seen many more footy seasons than I.
Our three leading ladies were phenomenal. The remarkable Erin Keleher played Alexandra Spofford, a good-time-girl sculptress. Keleher strutted around that stage like she owned it and her voice was so beautiful and smooth. Lucy MacVicar’s portrayal of cellist Jane Smart showed a great dedication to the craft, with her convincing acting and credible cello-playing emulation. Susie McCann’s vocal strength really shone through as Sukie Rougemont, within both her musical control and clarity of accent. Her diction in the patter song “Words, Words Words” brought the house down. The highlight of the show was the beautifully-executed tight harmonies and unison in “I Wish I May”. Sublime.
Felicia Gabriel (played by Lucy Nicolson) was excellent – her overbearing, domineering and downright shrill performance was annoying, ergo, an accurate representation of the character. Her long-suffering husband Clyde (Colin Sephton) performed appropriately down-trodden and miserable, getting many a giggle from the audience. Their daughter Jennifer (Amy Gridley) is in love with Alexandra’s son, Michael Spofford (Anthony Bolger). Their duet, “Something” provided an effective nuance of contemporary vocal articulation.
Where Darryl Van Horne (played by Michael Young) lacked some charisma and effective physicality, he more than made up for this with vocal excellence. His dulcet speaking voice promised a rich singing voice. His articulation and interplay with the other members of the cast was fun to watch.
Darryl’s butler Fidel (Sean Loughlin) is just hilarious – his sustained silence and physicality made the audience roar, especially so when he found himself on the wrong side of the curtain, and amended the issue whilst remaining in character.
Director Jane Court and choreographer Merilyn Young should walk away from this production with heads held high - the production remained reasonably faithful to the original in terms of blocking and movement. I really had only two gripes with this show: the amplified shadow of the conductor’s baton on the side wall was uber-distracting; and Sally Fleming’s set design, whilst practical, lacked a certain pizzazz: it screamed amateur theatre and I believe it could have been vastly improved without spending much more money. That said, I loved the painted autumnal backdrop.
The Witches of Eastwick is best known for strong technical theatre. The main effect is the three witches flying. I refuse to divulge their secret: suffice to say it is spectacular. I beg you to go and see the show.