Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Bell, Book and Candle
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Legends Of: The Werewolf, Next to Normal, Pound, Camelot, Chicago


Eric Schoen and Vivienne Davis
Photo by Stephanie Cartwright
John Van Druten's 1950 play Bell, Book and Candle is a playful romantic comedy that focuses on witches living in New York City. While it's a quaint period piece set in the same year it was written and has a fairly simple plot, it still has its charms and holds up quite nicely in the well-cast, smartly directed production at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre.

The plot centers on Gillian Holroyd, a single woman in New York City who just happens to be a witch. Her Aunt Queenie lives upstairs from Gillian, as does the publishing executive Shepherd Henderson who just recently moved in. Gillian has been out of town, so she and Shep have never met and the play begins on Christmas Eve when she notices him coming into the building.

The sight of Shep fascinates Gillian in a way she's never experienced before, but there's only one small problem with the attraction Gillian feels toward Shep, which Queenie discovers when she puts a spell on Shep's phone in order to hear his conversations and gain access to his apartment to read his private letters—Shep and his girlfriend plan to announce their engagement at a party in a week. Also, Gillian learns that Shep's girlfriend is a former college rival of hers. So, Gillian does what any good witch who is jealous and possibly in love would do and puts a spell on Shep that draws him to her. Will the addition of Gillian's warlock brother Nicky, who loves pulling pranks on others, and the presence of the oddball, self-proclaimed expert on witchcraft Sidney Redlitch, who has written a book on the subject and claims he can easily spot a witch, threaten Gillian's spell to be revealed to Shep?

Van Druten's dialogue is witty and his characters are fairly nuanced. It's also interesting to note that he wrote the play at a time when "witch hunts" were happening in Washington D.C., with the House Un-American Activities Committee on the hunt for communists. He even manages to mention those trials in the script. While the plot is fairly predictable and a little slow going in spots, there are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, and Van Druten's characters are intriguing and fairly fleshed out. His script is also well-crafted with a nice amount of foreshadowing.

Director Rick Davis has assembled a great cast who deliver well thought out portrayals. Vivienne Davis is radiant, clever and cunning, with an earthy level of sophistication, as Gillian. It's nice to see that she isn't mimicking Kim Novak's cool portrayal of Gillian from the popular film version but instead is delivering a performance that is full of warmth. As Shepherd Henderson, Eric Schoen is quite solid and does a good job in showing how the spell impacts and changes Shep's initial feelings toward Gillian. Shep is the least flashy of all of the characters and his dialogue is a bit stodgy, but Schoen manages to breathe life into the role. Also, the romantic chemistry between Davis and Schoen is palpable and quite intense.

Paul Hartwell is a hoot as Gillian's warlock brother Nicky. He is playful, mischievous, bratty, and entirely lovable. As the wacky and eccentric Queenie, Martha Welty delivers a rich, joyful, crowd-pleasing performance. With expressive body language and facial gestures, J. Kevin Tallent is hilarious as the writer Sidney Redlitch. All three deliver the requisite comic relief in spades and have excellent comic timing.

Davis' direction makes good use of the intimate Don Bluth space and derives rich performances from his cast. The only slight issues I had were the inclusion of a cheesy song from the 1970s during a scene change, which seemed out of place since all of the other songs used during the show are from around the period it's set in, and the fact that when Shep first meets Gillian he appears to already be fairly infatuated by her, which goes against a comment Gillian later makes about their first encounter.

Rick Davis' set design works well to depict Gillian's apartment, and the lighting design by Bret Reese and Davis is used effectively, along with the sound design by Roger Mckay and Davis, to produce the numerous magical moments in the show. Corinne Hawkins costumes are excellent, with gorgeous gowns and dresses for Gillian and Queenie and suits and tuxes for the men that are all character and period perfect.

Bell, Book and Candle may be somewhat slow moving in spots and slightly dated, but it has fun and romantic characters and humorous situations. Don Bluth Front Row Theatre's production is thoroughly enjoyable and the excellent cast will most likely charm you and have you under their spell.

Bell, Book and Candle runs through November 6, 2021, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8989 E. Vía Linda #118, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information visit www.donbluthfrontrowtheatre.com or call 480-314-0841.

Directed by Rick Davis
Producers: Don Bluth and Cheryl Schaar
Set Designer: Rick Davis
Properties Designer: Samantha Hartwell and Rick Davis
Lighting Designer: Bret Reese and Rick Davis
Sound Designer: Roger McKay and Rick Davis
Costume Designer: Corinne Hawkins
Stage Manager: Samantha Hartwell

Cast:
Gillian Holroyd: Vivienne Davis
Shepherd Henderson: Eric Schoen
Nicky Holroyd: Paul Hartwell
Aunt Queenie Holroyd: Martha Welty
Sidney Redlitch: J. Kevin Tallent


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