Chicago Theatre Review
Caught in a Spell
Bewildered – Hell in a Handbag
David Cerda’s joyous, always over-the-top productions that parody and celebrate pop culture continues with their fifteenth season of fun. Hot on the heels of the company’s hilarious “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes” (which has been extended and continues to play late nights at Stage 773 to sold-out audiences), this wonderful new parody of “Bewitched” is a gem. Inspired by the popular, long-running television series about a beautiful, young witch who marries a mortal and reluctantly vows to give up using magic, this original musical comedy surprisingly focuses on nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz.
For those few theatergoers who’ve never seen or can’t recall the original TV sitcom fantasy, it ran from 1964-1972. The show starred Elizabeth Montgomery as a 20-something witch named Samantha. She falls in love with and weds Darren Stephens, played early in the run by Dick York, and later by Dick Sargent. Darren discovers that his bride is a witch and adds to her nuptial vows a promise that she’ll give up magic. Samantha and Darren have two children, Tabitha and Adam, both of whom show signs of inheriting their mother’s talent for witchcraft. Samantha’s extended magical family included her domineering mother Endora, played by legendary film star Agnes Moorehead, Uncle Arthur, portrayed with broad comic flair by actor Paul Lynde, as well as an entire family tree of other characters. Their sitcom world also included Darren’s boss, Larry Tate, the droll president of an ad agency, his wise-cracking wife Louise, and the Stephens’ crazy, curious eavesdropping neighbor Gladys and her cynical husband Abner.
Ron Weaver revisits these beloved characters in his script, weaving them into a brand new episode that spotlights Samantha and Darren’s meddlesome neighbor lady and her husband. Incorporating blissful Broadway-style songs, composed by the multitalented Aaron Benham, this show is an effervescent, nostalgic delight. With energized choreography, a sound vision and superb guidance by Director Brigitte Ditmars and skilled Musical Direction by Aaron Benham, this is an entertaining, topnotch production that will charm every audience member. It’s more fun than a cauldron full of witch’s brew and offers a good amount of saucy humor created specifically for LGBTQ audiences. Supported by a talented backstage band, led by Andrew Milliken, set within Roger Wykes’ imaginative and adaptable scenic design and dressed with perfection in Rachel Sypniewski’s period costumes, with great wigs and makeup by Keith Ryan and Sydney Genco, this is one heck of a show.
The cast bubbles over with polished talented. The always terrific Caitlin Jackson is magnificent as Gladys Kravitz. A standout in several of this company’s musicals, as well as starring with other theatre companies, such as Black Button Eyes, Refuge, and Cowardly Scarecrow, this gifted actress is one of the best reasons to see this hilarious musical. Bewigged in long, flowing blonde tresses, the talented Elizabeth Morgan is perfection as Samantha. She’s not only a wonderful singer and actress, in her own right; she’s got Elizabeth Montgomery’s vocal quality, body language and mannerisms down to an art form. Artistic Director David Cerda is, once again, deliciously devilish, this time in another role he was born to play: Endora. Sweeping across the stage in an array of caftans and huge, dangling earrings, Cerda is a delight.
The supporting cast is equally wonderful. The ensemble of actors who provide the magic is a great idea. A couple of running gags also help make this play especially funny. Throughout the run of the television show there were two different, but similar-looking actors in the role of Darren. Weaver works this strangeness into his musical, writing both Darrens into the plot. They’re played with equal wit and verve by Scott Sawa and AJ Wright. Always a welcome addition to any HiaH production, Ed Jones, who’s also starring in “The Golden Girls,” is a gay and gleeful Paul Lynde-inspired Uncle Arthur. Whenever Jones enters the story, the comedy is amped up to the max. Robert Williams returns to this company in another very funny stage conceit. He plays both the Stephens’ daughter Tabitha and Louise, the boozy wife of Larry Tate (a very amusing Steve Kimbrough). And, one of this productions most talented newcomers, Matt Miles makes his noteworthy debut here as Abner Kravitz. This wonderful singer and gifted actor has been seen on stages all over Chicago, and will be a welcome addition to any future HiaH production.
Just in time for Halloween, Hell in a Handbag has bought to the stage a humorous story of an iconic witch and her magical family. With a terrific script, an excellent, catchy musical score, skilled direction and technical support and a cast that could star in any Broadway musical (David Cerda would make an fantastic Edna in “Hairspray”), this is a special, spectacularly entertaining new musical that’s fiendishly festive and fun and certain to cast a spell over audiences.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 27-November 11 by Hell in a Handbag Productions at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 773-327-5252 or by going to www.handbagproductions.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.