Bring Back That Show: The Witches of Eastwick

Julia Rank
Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Why The Witches of Eastwick deserves a revival

The Witches of Eastwick (photo: Danny Kaan)
The Witches of Eastwick (photo: Danny Kaan)

Musicals are often markedly different to their source material and The Witches of Eastwick is no exception. In John Updike’s disturbing 1984 novel, the three ‘witches’ are absolutely despicable. They were made much more sympathetic for the all-star 1987 film and more lovable yet for the musical.

With music by Dana P Rowe and lyrics/book by John Dempsey (they also wrote Zombie Prom and The Fix together), and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, The Witches of Eastwick premiered in June 2000 at Theatre Royal Drury Lane and later transferred to the smaller Prince of Wales Theatre (March 2001) in a revised form, running for 17 months in total.

The show has never been performed on Broadway but there was a production at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia in 2007

With its witty and vivacious score and a fair amount of racy content, the show could be described as The Music Man meets Desperate Housewives. It was a refreshing example of musical comedy in a landscape dominated by epic stories in historical settings throughout the ’80s and ’90s. There was also plenty of spectacle – the Act One finale culminated in that famous flying scene.

Set in a fictional small town in Rhode Island, the three heroines are failed sculptor Alexandra Spofford, repressed cellist Jane Smart and anxious journalist Sukie Rougemont, originally played by Lucie Arnaz, Joanna Riding and Maria Friedman respectively. All are single and lonely and, fuelled by martinis and brownies on a stormy night, they cast a spell to conjure up their dream man – and all sorts of hijinks ensue.

And the Devil himself? Star of TV comedy-drama Lovejoy Ian McShane took the role of flashy incomer Darryl Van Horne who seduces the three ladies and brings chaos to Eastwick. But the women are the ones who really matter.

The cast album was one of my most frequently listened-to recordings as a teenager as I found it so empowering. Particular highlights are Arnaz’s earthiness and all of Riding’s acerbic line readings and her unleashing of Jane’s pent-up frustrations in ‘Waiting For the Music to Begin’. The harmonies in ‘Make Him Mine’, ‘I Wish I May’ and the finale ‘Look At Me’ are shimmeringly lovely. There are also excellent ensemble numbers, led by Rosemary Ashe as town busybody Felicia Gabriel.

The show has never been performed on Broadway but there was a production at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia in 2007. It has also been mounted in Australia, the Czech Republic, Brazil and Austria. The show toured the UK in 2008-09; Newbury’s Watermill Theatre produced an actor-musician production in 2013, and a one-off concert at the Sondheim Theatre was directed by original cast member Friedman in 2022.

With feminism discussed much more openly in mainstream culture now than in 2000, surely it’s time for the witches to fly again?

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today