ON the way home from Bath tonight I have been singing songs from great musicals; South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, CATS, and others, all of which were musical memories stirred by songs in The Witches of Eastwick, yet curiously none of the actual songs from tonight’s show was original or memorable enough to remain in my own musical memory.
I fondly remember seeing the West End production at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane with Lovejoy himself, Ian McShane, singing and dancing his way to mixed, but mainly positive, reviews in 2000, and I think I have the soundtrack on CD, but I could not have named or sung any song from the show before this evening.
Based on the John Updike novel, it is a very ambitious piece to stage, with big production numbers, pyrotechnics, multiple locations and flying “witches”, as well as very rude language and subject matter, but as Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society have proved in the past, they seem to be able to tackle just about anything.
The small town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, is turned upside down when New York stranger, and possible devil, Darryl Van Horne arrives and sets up a harem with three divorcees, the “witches” of the title. He is rude, brash, and foul-mouthed at times, quite a shock to the prim and proper townsfolk, and to some of the Bath audience too. His seduction of the three women (curiously in a different order to the synopsis in the programme) leaves them in various stages of undress; shirtless, skirtless, and topless respectively, and Sabrina Messer as Jane, Jenny Lavender as Sukie and Emma Puddick as Alexandra carry this off with complete ease, showing their excellent singing and dancing skills here and in two beautiful trios.
Richard Pugh is the devil personified as Darryl, owning the stage and showing Bath audiences that there is little difference these days between amateur and professional – something the accurate choral singing, tight choreography and clever set design also exhibit, with wonderful Busby Berkeley style routines, and roll-on, roll-off churches, house-fronts and bars, to name a few.
Other stand-out performances include the young lovers Jennifer and Michael, played with honest innocence by Maisie Carter and Matthew Bromwich, Judy David as the delightfully bossy Felicia, and Adam Darts making housekeeper Fidel look like Derren Brown in tights.
One huge advantage of amateur over professional is the spectacle of so many people on stage, and this company fills the stage without it ever seeming crowded, with more than 40 people in the cast, wonderfully directed and choreographed, and singing at full pelt. The band, under Peter Blackwood, are another huge strength, and could easily have come straight from the West End.
The Witches of Eastwick is not a show I will rush to see again, as it does not linger for long in the memory, but I will happily travel to see BODS perform anything, as they have proved this week that they can take material bordering on pastiche and make it thoroughly entertaining. If you want to see some of the best musical talent in the area, it’s on until Saturday.