by Matt Smith
”Come little children I’ll take thee away / into the land of enchantment / Come little children, the time’s come to play / here in my garden of magic…”
That’s right… the infamous candle was once again aglow last Monday night when Dani, Max, Allison, Binx, Billy and all your Hocus Pocus favorites all returned to the steamy (Le) Poisson Rouge for another round of I Put a Spell on You, the annual Halloween cabaret concert event wherein the Sanderson sisters are summoned for a devilishly theatrical night of frights, spooks, and surprises!!
The brainchild of producers Danny Marin, Emily Cates and our wonderfully wicked Winnifred herself Jay Armstrong Johnson, the evening fuses the best of the 1993 cult classic film with the best of contemporary Broadway and pop to create a truly one-of-a-kind experience; it chronicles the Sanderson Sisters on their magical, musical quest to suck out the souls of the youths, in order to retain their immortality and wreak havoc on the living.
But, of course, this being the Broadway-fied incarnation, their journey isn’t without passes at a host of vile villains across the pop culture lexicon, including Hexxus, Oogie Boogie, Cruella DeVil, and Lady Tremaine, to name a few, all of whom attempt, with mixed results, to introduce themselves and offer their services through song.
Among the standouts: Kaley Ann Vorhees, late of Phantom, delights as an operatic Pinocchio who inadvertently thwarts the trio’s efforts to eternalize, while Aladdin’s Major Attaway ties things up quite nicely as the aforementioned Oogie Boogie with the Oogie Boogie Song. Grammy-nominated Nicole Zuraitis’ Cruella DeVil additionally showcases the knockout jazzy jazz band, led with precision by musical director Emily Marshall, and Robyn Hurder’s in a league of own, with a risqué, revamped rendition of a RuPaul classic that proves she’s just as versatile as her character in Moulin Rouge!
But while this eclectic cast of characters is undoubtedly entertaining in their own right, the real triumph of the evening lies in Johnson’s expert ability to weave all the elements together. It’s done with such care and precision, so as not to compromise the plot of the Hocus Pocus flick we all know and love, but gives each of these characters (and, in turn, the actors) their own chance to shine within separate singular numbers.
Consider the subtle, skillful lyric swaps set to the music of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alan Menken, and Jessie J (a commendable feat in its own right), and you can see the acute level of care and creativity that goes into every detail to ensure this thing got on its feet. That these enchantresses return year after year, continually expanding upon the original concept — birthed in 2016 at nightclub Feinstein’s/54 Below — is more than just a coincidence with a candle… it’s a testament to the brilliant minds and creative sorcery of its creators, with Johnson firmly at the helm.
And sure… the flame may have burned out on this year’s extravaganza, but there’s no denying these charmers won’t pop up next year when the candle is lit anew, beckoning them back for another night, another attempt, and another frighteningly musical romp that is sure to leave you (well, what else?) spellbound.
Photos: Evan Zimmerman
I Put a Spell on You: The Return of the Sanderson Sisters played (Le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) on October 28th; all proceeds benefitted Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For more information, visit www.lpr.com.