The Witches of Eastwick **1/2

The Witches of Eastwick plays like an adult panto: it has constant sexual innuendo and content, a flashy design concept, impressive special effects and a lead who isn’t a great actor but knows how to work a crowd.  And yet, it is a production that is best described as lost 

Set half a century ago in a New England village, the story focuses on three scorned women whose collective wish for a man leads to the arrival of Darryl Van Horne, an oversexed supernatural character bent on causing havoc.  All three women enter into an affair with Van Horne, first individually then collectively, which leads to dabbling into the occult and harsh criticism from their community.

Leading the production in the role of Van Horne is Wet Wet Wet’s Marti Pellow.  As one would expect, he sings the role well and plays a very convincing character within the songs.  Unfortunately, he is not able to carry his character through the non-musical scenes.  He relies on an overuse of gestures and mugging, resulting in a performance that comes across as a mixed impersonation of Richard Nixon and Elvis on speed.

And yet, much of the crowd loved him.  It was as if the theatre were playing host to a rock concert with fans screaming for Pellow throughout the performance.  For those who choose to see Eastwick solely for Pellow, they will probably be highly entertained.  Others may not be so enamoured.

Much better are the actresses who play the three lead women.  Each one, Ria Jones, Rebecca Thornhill and Poppy Tierney, not only give excellent individual performances but work extremely well as a mini-ensemble.  Though their characters may be a bit on the shallow side, their performances are so good that one instantly likes and sides with them.

As for the production itself, it is fairly polished.  It is well choreographed and directed and has a simple but effective design.  The ensemble work is also very solid, with some supporting characters that have fine moments throughout.

What is sorely lacking, however, is the source material.  John Dempsey, responsible for the book and lyrics, and Dana P. Rowe, the composer, are both very talented and show great promise.  But promise is all that this piece has; it is a good idea with some great moments but still feels incomplete.  Since the piece premiered, it has undergone numerous rewrites.  The book may be a bit tighter but some of the musical choices are questionable.  New material adds little to moments they replace, and some of the better-known songs have been cut, including the well-regarded Loose Ends.

There is an unfortunate lack of honest artistic exploration into female sexuality.  Most dramas tend to treat sex either as masculine conquest or a form of violence against women.  Eastwick could have been a mature musical that treated its subject with respect.  Instead, it is a shallow piece that contains cheap shenanigans, and it clearly insulted some as a few audience members filtered out of the theatre during the performance.  Pellow’s fans will take joy in his antics and many will enjoy the production’s more theatrical moments, but as a whole it is nothing more than a great missed opportunity that is buoyed by three phenomenal performance that are far better than the material they represent.

In the Glasgow Kings until May 9.  For more information follow the link here.

Originally published through Onstage Scotland.

Written in response to a performance at Edinburgh’s Playhouse in December 2008.

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