Creative Cauldron presents the world premiere of Witch, the fourth installment in their Bold New Works for Intimate Stages commissioning project. Written by Co-Directors Matt Conner (Music and Lyrics) and Stephen Gregory Smith (Book and Lyrics), Witch seeks to explore the perseverance of feminine power and influence. The musical shares several stories of women branded as “Witches” throughout the centuries, told by multi-generational women of today. It’s a highly ambitious piece – one that shows an incredible amount of potential but also has room for improvement.
Creative Cauldron’s technical team does a great job with the intimate black box theater. Scenic designer Margie Jervis maximizes the space’s potential with an intimidating brick scaffold and black drapery. It’s a simple, solemn setting with a lot of versatility–with a swift sweep of a curtain and some lighting and sound changes by designers Lynn Joslin and Andrew Nelson, the haunting, sober atmosphere transforms into the busy, angry buzz of a protest march. Props and puppetry, also designed by Jervis, are used throughout the production. Most are effective (witty protest signs and an impressive witch rod puppet) while others are a bit befuddling and lean towards melodrama (I’m looking at you, cauldron full of naked Barbies and baby dolls).
Renowned Broadway actress Susan Derry plays Maggie, leader of the protest march and an obvious force to be reckoned with. We see her anger and verve before she even speaks, thanks to thoughtful costume design by Alison Johnson. Wearing a black leather jacket covered in buttons, a thick studded belt, and knee-high biker boots, no one is surprised when Maggie removes her jacket to better display her loud “FEMINIST” t-shirt underneath. Maggie, alongside her mother Becky (Fellow Broadway alum Florence Lacey), two of her friends, and their three daughters, perform a variety of skits for the crowd during a protest, drawing both positive and negative attention. I do wish that the plot (an activist theater troupe performing at a protest) was made clear from the get-go – I spent too long of a time confused, trying to make sense of a lot of jumbled material and information before piecing it together into a cohesive story.
The ladies have a variety of musical numbers, most focused on specific women throughout history who were demonized for asserting their power in patriarchic societies. Catherine Purcell (Molly) leads the women in the cheeky number, “The Tale of Joan of Arc,” and Iyona Blake (Destiny) commands the audience’s attention with the powerful “The Tale of Ma Hawa.” Margaret Hamilton, Mary Webster, and Moll Dyer’s stories are also studied through song. Florence Lacey performed a crowd favorite with the potent and poignant “The Tale of the Crone,” while the daughters of the show had one of my favorite numbers, “Pretty–The Tale of the Youth,” about our society’s pressure on young women to be beautiful. The girls, Samaria Dellorso as Mary, Sophia Manicone as Fiona, and Arianna Vargas as Marie, do a fantastic job in this piece. They show encouragement and support for their mothers’ efforts while also challenging them, insisting they update and modernize the skits and presentations (“We’re moving past you, Mama. EVERYONE is moving past you. We all need to keep up.”) These girls represent the future, and it’s looking bright!
The show has a number of moving moments, my favorite being when Maggie gets into an argument with a protestor, sparring back-and-forth with a megaphone. Finally, she is overcome with emotion and calls for unity: “You call us names, we call you names, and what is left but names!?” However, these commendable moments get lost on an overcrowded plate. It’s my opinion that the show tries to take on too much, touching on subjects ranging from sexual assault, young rebellion, homosexuality, and aging health concerns, to name a few. A baffling character known as the “witch inspector” also seems more like an interruption than an asset. In an effort to include everyone, everyone becomes muffled. I would prefer that they focus instead on a couple of topics and really dig into them, instead of acknowledging them all. That being said, the cast is full of talent, and the actors all do a great job with the material they’re given. Iyona Blake’s performance as Destiny is my favorite by far; full of power and sass, and perhaps the best vocals on stage.
Creative Cauldron’s Witch could use some revisions, but the core sentiment of the project is solid, and worthy of an audience.
Running Time: 70 minutes, without an intermission.
In the Moment: ‘Witch’ at Creative Cauldron by David Siegel