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A CurtainUp Review

The Witches of Eastwick
By Lizzie Loveridge

If money could cast a spell over West End audiences, then Cameron Mackintosh's 4.5 million ($6.5 million) spent on The Witches of Eastwick should pack them in for the next seven or eight years. We all know that money does not equate success but it does buy some splendid sets and magical special effects to spice up the production. The witches fly like Peter Pan, the Eastwick American diner turns into a glitsy dance scene in a juke box like something out of Grease, and the church collapses as in An Inspector Calls.

The story is derived from the 1987 film based on John Updike's 1984 novel. Thus the musical is two removed from Updike's novel which emphasised how women could empower themselves. Ian McShane, known to many as the loveable rogue Lovejoy in the BBC television series, takes on the role of Darryl Van Horne, a mysterious stranger who appears in response to three single women's fantasies of falling in love with a significant other. The women are: Alexandra (very well done by Lucie Arnaz), an avant garde sculptor; Sukie (Maria Friedman), a sophisticated and zany newspaper reporter with an outstanding voice ; and Jane (Joanna Riding), an uptight musician who has never been married and whose full sexuality is unleashed in middle age by the womanising Van Horne (Ian McShane -- good at his lechery and leering, but lacking in subtlety).

Set in a New England small town in the 1960s, the three women are the subject of gossip and disapproval. Rosemary Ashe as the lead busybody is called upon to regurgitate all manner of insects and extraneous objects as a result of the witches' spells whilst singing, no mean feat! A real magician was on hand to ensure the trompe l'oeil really works.

Dana P. Rowe's music might become more memorable with repetition and there are some enjoyable numbers, as when the women singing "Make Him Mine" conjure up their personal visions. "Dirty Laundry" is a nice, big number about gossip sung by the townsfolk from behind their sheet hung washing lines, they dance with laundry baskets and there is much flapping of linen. "Words, Words, Words" is well sung by Maria Friedman, as is her patter song "Loose Ends". John Dempsey's lyrics are witty in places but occasionally seem more vulgar than sexy.

Choreographically there is not much to write home about, at least not for those of us who have seen Chicago and Fosse. The problem is that in trying to establish the townspeople as individuals by dressing them all differently, works against them when they move together.

The big event is Bob Crowley's sets, of which there are many. Rolling hills and white washed houses clustered round the church evoke Eastwick in Rhode Island, but idealised like The Wizard of Oz. To support things devilish, there are a lot of red and Gothic settings. The Van Horne house and the Juke box scene for the upbeat "Dance with the Devil" are sumptuous. Even the tennis scene has wonderful gate posts made of large rackets and featuring oversize tennis balls. The witches fly in ball gowns of gold, silver and bronze out over the stalls and up to the circle at the height of their infatuation with Darryl. Under Eric Schaeffer's crisp direction the show never lacks pace.

I think that it is interesting that Mackintosh asked Rowe and Dempsey which of the list of Warner Brothers Films they would like to make into a musical. It sounds more like a commercial decision than a creative one and that is what we have in The Witches of Eastwick, the ingredients for a big hit but disappointingly lacking in that mystery ingredient that would make it a totally magical evening.

Music by Dana P Rowe
Lyrics and Book by John Dempsey
Based on the novel by John Updike and The Warner Brothers Motion Picture
Directed by Eric Shaeffer
Musical Director: David White

Starring: Ian McShane, Lucie Arnaz, Maria Friedman, Joanna Riding
With: Rosemary Ashe, Peter Joback, Caroline Sheen, Stephen Tate, Jocelyn Hawkyard, Graham Tudor, Valda Aviks, Gee Williams, Matt Dempsey, Scarlett Strallen, Sarah Lark, Julia Sutton, Jasna Ivir, Kevin Curtin, Anne Marie McCormack, Kevin Wainwright, Chris Holland, Alison Forbes, Timothy Walton, Katherine Akin, Earl Carpenter, Maurice Lane, Lisa Peace, Shaun Henson, Jean McGlynn.
Design: Bob Crowley
Lighting Design: Howard Harrison
Orchestrations: William David Brohn
Dance Arrangements: Dana P Rowe and Christopher Jahnke
Choreography by Bob Avian and Stephen Mear
Sound Design: Andrew Bruce
Running time: Two hours Forty five minutes with an interval
A Cameon Mackintosh Production at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street London WC2
Box Office: 020 7494 5000
Booking to March 31st 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 19th July performance at Drury Lane London WC2.

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