I have to admit, when buying tickets for this, I’d never heard of Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) before and at £10 a seat, I wondered what level of performance I should expect. Despite the excellent value in price, though, I still guessed it would be good, but never expected how good.
Over the past few months I have seen The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe at the newer Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and Jesus Christ Superstar (starring Glenn Carter) at the Hippodrome. I can honestly say, this production of The Witches of Eastwick knocked both those offerings out the building in terms of enjoyment.
The Witches of Eastwick – My new favourite show, and all thanks to the wonderful production team, orchestra and more important, the talented Year 13 musical theatre students of BOA.
An academy in performing arts for ages 14 to 19, BOA have the cream of the region and it was obvious from the outset, you’ve got to be damn good to get into this school.
My interest in The Witches of Eastwick had been piqued while taking part myself in a concert featuring two of the numbers, and I wanted to see what the entire show had to offer.
Loosely based on the novel of the same name by John Updike, but having more in common with the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick tells of three women searching for the man of their dreams. Pooling energy together, their dreams do come true, but they also get more than they bargained for.
The enigmatic Daryll Van Horne arrives and soon seduces all three, causing destruction, and eventual death along the way. The women realise what it is they have created and decide they have to put things right and send Daryll back from where he came.
Looking at the programme, the pen pictures tell me there were two casts. I learned that these were basically the A and B teams. I don’t know if there was any significance in these categories, or that it was simply a way of dividing to give the students an equal opportunity over the course of the run. As it was, I saw the B cast and if the A lot were meant to be the primary, then they must have been something extra special because the B team I witnessed were out of this world.
Once you got over the fact that, yes, the majority of parts are meant to be played by older people, you soon became lost in the show. In fact, I’d forgotten how old they really were halfway through the opening. Sitting in Row B, I think I spent the entire show leaning forward with chin in hand, mesmerised by what I saw on stage. Not an easy task to keep me from fidgeting throughout a performance.
I imagine it must be hard to pull off characterising much older parts, especially the males, but Jack Sanders did a fantastic job with his portrayal of Daryll. And then you had the witches, themselves. Wow! To get one good voice is great, but all three? Talulla Wheatley (Alex), Heather Foster (Jane) and Lydia Gardiner (Sukie) were all amazing. Incredible voices and fantastic harmonies with great acting to top it off. Then you also had the supporting principles and an ensemble which brought their numbers onto another scale, Dirty Laundry, in particular. And what an opening we had!
I have to say I already had a liking for I Wish I May but at the climax to Act One when Alex, Jane and Sukie send their spirits soaring skyward and fly, I wanted to get to my feet and give a standing ovation there and then. But I thought, behave, there’s still the second act to come yet.
As well as those already mentioned, I loved every number in the show, in particular, the three seduction numbers, each different in their own way. Now I’m not into narcotics, and the strongest thing I’ve ever smoked is a piece of salmon, but even I craved a cigarette after Waiting for the Music.
Since watching, I’ve had the Original London Cast CD on repeat in the car. This is all testament to the BOA cast and production team. A mention, of course, has to go to Director – Rian Holloway, Musical Director – Michelle King, Choreographer – Lee Crowley and Company Manager – Amy Rutter. I hope those credits are right, I got them from the back of the programme. Also, hats off to the rest of the band and crew who made this occasion for me – magic.