I have thoroughly enjoyed following the evolution of the No One Here But Us Witches cabaret. Now in its third incarnation, and played fittingly enough on Halloween night, no less, the talented troupe of witches are back, this time with election year fever. Blending a combination of American Horror Story with voting hijinks, it was time to elect the new “Supreme” witch. In the running, a team of Broadway and Disney’s best bad girls, Cruella De Vil, Maleficent, Elphaba and Glinda. Campaign promises ranged from “increasing bubble production, 10 fold” to “vote for me or I will turn into a dragon and burn your house down!” These candidates ranged in skill sets; balancing the fine line between the overly qualified, but “shrill” sounding, to the flat out, confrontational bully. Does this election sound familiar, or what? The women here thankfully do not get bogged down with states of blue or red. They soar as they sing, and sing they do, often and with glorious results. Conceived by Chicago based actress and Firebrand Theatre co-founder, Harmony France, Witches is a musical that works best as a celebration of the misunderstood. Powerful, beautiful and all delightfully flawed, which witch will land the coveted spot?
The shows began with Glinda, played with relish by Amanda Horvath channeling Kristin Chenoweth’s signature soprano, while adorned in a cotton candy pink taffeta dress, accented with appliques of butterflies, a tiara and platform silver stilettos. As she reminded the audience, she should be elected Supreme as “I look the best in a tiara by far.” The façade of her smiling demeanor quickly developed a few cracks upon the arrival of the emerald enchantress, Elphaba (Harmony France) who emerged on stage to croon the 1990’s Garbage hit “I’m Only Happy When It Rains.” A quick refrain or two from Wicked’s “Loathing” and Radiohead’s “Creep” lead to the arrival of the third witch, this election season’s loudmouth tyrant, Sleeping Beauty’sleather bustier clad, horned baddie, Maleficent, played with scene-stealing verve by Firebrand Theater’s other co-creator, Danni Smith. With tongue firmly placed in cheek, there was a brief discussion of a joint ticket featuring Elphaba and Maleficent. “Maybe we should start a feminist theatre company instead” France quipped, in a self-parodying moment of life imitating art.
Rounding out this quarrelsome foursome, and running on a platform of self-centeredness, sex appeal and “a fur coat for everyone,” the vampy and seductive Sydney Charles emerged as Cruella De Vil. Joining the proceedings this time, a couple of cabaret boy minions, Parker Guidry and Royen Kent, who each got their shared moment in the spotlight while performing Cruella’s theme song. All the while, Charles sashayed her way through the audience, shaking hands and requesting “vote for me, darling!” By the time she belted, The Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” I was at a complete and utter loss for exactly who I wanted to win. These wily witches next united for an enchanting rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Bette Midler’s “I’ve Put a Spell On You” from the movie Hocus Pocus.
Just like in previous incarnations, the mash-up of “Defying Gravity” with “Let It Go” was a personal favorite and show highlight. Wicked’s “Popular” was tweaked to “Un-Popular” as Glinda underwent a transformative Goth, bad girl makeover to hilarious results. Christina Hall returned as the Witch from Into The Woods and enchanted the captivated crowd, putting her own unique spin on “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. If you were looking for weak links in the performances, there weren’t any. Each gal allowed the opportunity to shine center stage, then politely stepped aside and allowed the others to do the same. I could listen to Charles sing “Home” from The Wiz over and over again. Absolutely mesmerizing. The script and one-liners were loose, as was Jon Martinez’s direction and choreography. Aaron Benham returned as the Musical Director, reworking arrangements with Timothy Boyd, which helped to raise the performance numbers, exponentially. Witches works best when this quintet of talented dynamic divas are allowed to brew a white hot cauldron of contemporary and classic cabaret hits. All treats, no tricks.
The show’s raucous finale once again amended the 1990’s Meredith Brooks Grammy nominated hit “Bitch” as the ladies triumphantly crooned “I’m a witch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I do not feel ashamed. I’m your hell, I’m your dream, I’m nothing in between. You know you wouldn’t want me any other way,” and neither would I! The five vocally gifted, Windy City based, bad girls behaving oh-so-good, while clearly having a ball with one another and it showed. The new addition to the story may have been the #election2016 theme, but in my opinion, all five ladies deserved to share the crown of the Supreme. Each supremely talented, supremely entertaining and supremely wonderful.
No One Here But Us Witches played at the Uptown Underground on Monday, October 31, 2016