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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Bell, Book and Candle

I don't think I would ever have become a witch if my parents had let me go on the stage. — Aunt Queenie
The above quoted irrepressible line by playwright John Van Druten is typical of his wildly popular 1950 comedy and also shrewdly underlines its theme. In a conventional time, it demonstrates the sly and underhanded way a woman must weave her spell.

Gillian Holroyd (Willow Geer), a curvaceous speciman of the Dark Arts, falls for the man upstairs, Shepherd Henderson (Michael A. Newcomer), a hunky publisher who is already affianced to another woman. Unable to seduce him by tried-and-true methods, Gillian with the help of her black cat Pyewacket casts a spell. It works like a charm because it is one and Act I's curtain finds the couple plastered together closer than paint on a wall.

The mores of witchcraft forbid a witch falling in love at the expense of losing her powers but Gill falls anyway, partly because of Shep's abundant energy and joie de vivre. Aiding the proceedings are Gill's wacky family: ne'er-do-well brother Nicky (Will Bradley) and fey Aunt Queenie (Mary Jo Catlett), who prove that magical powers don't mean a thing without a brain behind them.

Author Sidney Redlitch (Benton Jennings) is conjured up by an irate Gill who is infuriated by his know-nothing book about witches, in which the gullible Redlitch swallows everything that crosses his path. He also swallows everything on Gill's well-stocked bar, another totem of the '50s.

That guileless no-gooder Aunt Queenie spills the beans about Gill, witches and all, and after some stupefaction, Shep believes it. Real tears appear in Gill's hitherto tearless eyes and all her powers are gone. This story is so familiar I'm not spilling any secrets when I tell you Shep shows up with a dim excuse of returning a key and Gill, who now supports herself reviewing movies (not comedies!), is exposed as only human now.

Bewitched, the sequel, ran for many seasons on TV with Elizabeth Montgomery and an inane Richard York, so sappy you can hardly credit Montgomery with giving it up for him. So it's nice to see the original which still packs a sly comedic punch.

Credit the Colony Theatre in Burbank under Artistic Director Barbara Beckley for reviving this gem. One of five mid-size professional theatres in Los Angeles, its eclectic offerings have resulted in a 90% renewal rate.

Directed by Richard Israel, who keeps the pace fast and perky, the production has a nostalgic '50s scenic design by Stephen Gifford and costumes by Sharon McGunigle, with demure hemlines and form-fitting décolleté for Gill and wild colorful jungle wear for Aunt Queenie.

The cast is uniformly splendid, with Willow Geer as a confused but determined Gill, and Michael A. Newcomer as the hunky Shep. He plays a typical '50s male, righteously indignant at being fooled and meltingly shy in the right places. Will Bradley is sly and spunky as the feckless Nicky and Benton Jennings holds the stage as another '50s type, the self-assured author smug in his conceit and deliriously pleased with himself. And finally. Mary Jo Catlett as Aunt Queenie who veers between infiltrating Shep's apartment and blabbing family secrets with an innocent air of honesty that is as refreshing in the '50s as it is today.

Aunt Queenie is the precursor of the 1960s, an age famous for its openness. Clairvoyant in its witchery, Bell, Book and Candle tinkles like a charm!
Bell, Book and Candle
Playwright: John van Druten
Director: Richard Israel
Cast: Gillian (Willow Geer), Shep (Michael A. Newcomer), Aunt Queenie (Mary Jo Catlett), Nicky (Will Bradley), Sidney Redlitch (Benton Jennings).
Scenic Design: Stephen Gifford
Lighting Design: Luke Moyer
Costume Design: Sharon McGunigle
Sound Design: Cricket S. Myers
Properties Design: MacAndME
Production Stage Manager: Leesa Freed
Running Time: Two hours, one intermission
Running Dates: October 23-November 21, 2010
Where: Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank, CA. Reservations: (818) 558-7000 Ext. 15.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on October 23.
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