The following review is based on the performance from October 6th.
Executive Producer Kate Pazakis and her creative team, in tandem with the fine folks at the Rockwell Table & Stage, have brought back their uproariously spellbinding rendition of “Hocus Pocus” for a second year. It is, of course, part of their popular “Unauthorized Musical Parody Of” (UMPO) series, which has yet to offer anything but priceless fun. And so, “The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Hocus Pocus,” directed and narrated by TV veteran Peter Allen Vogt, with musical direction by Gregory Nabours, takes the cult-classic 1993 film — starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy — and infuses it with modern-day references and gut-busting quips for the 2017 crowd. Scheduled to run through November 4th, the musical is yet another can’t-miss, interactive experience for anyone who loves a little ghoulish fun in their lives, and would be inclined to imbibe a mischievously galvanizing concoction during this Halloween and autumn season.
Certainly, being well-versed with the film’s farcical plot — which the personable Vogt admittedly recognizes and pokes fun at throughout the show — is not a prerequisite to enjoying this production. “The UMPO Hocus Pocus” is faithful to the source material, with self-deprecating and hilariously irreverent humor that is intelligently self-aware, thanks to co-writers John Flynn and Kate Pazakis. Not to mention, the costume/set and lighting designers — who are Chadd Michael McMillan and Joey Guthman, respectively — set the ominous ambiance with a big-budgeted feel that exists within a roguishly green-hued universe.
Emma Hunton, who played Elphaba in the first national tour of “Wicked,” is Winifred Sanderson (double-cast with Broadway’s Marissa Jaret Winokur). She is joined by Haviland Stillwell and Gina D’Acciaro, who portray Sarah and Mary Sanderson (these roles are shared with Laura L. Thomas and Teya Patt). The trio is known as the dastardly Sanderson Sisters, who, in 1693, in their hometown of Salem, Mass., turn a young boy (Thackery Binx) into a black cat, and absorb the vitality of his younger sister, Emily. After the witches are hung, they are resurrected three-hundred years later when a virgin teen male, Max Dennison, lights the Black Flame Candle. Max, his teen crush (Allison) and sister Dani are then forced to deal with a variety of obstacles, including a pair of bullies (Jay and Ice), en route to vanquishing the witches and saving Salem.
Though like any good parody, the journey is always more satisfying than the destination, which gets off to a fiendishly rollicking start when Hunton, Stillwell and D’Acciaro — as the harmonizing Sanderson Sisters — entertainingly sing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” before performing a stellar version of En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind.” The songs that best highlight their rapscallion characters, however, include their take on the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” which is suitably changed to “Sanderson’s Back,” and the iconic “I Put a Spell on You” (originally by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins). Throughout these sardonically diabolical proceedings, Hunton is absolutely wonderful, not only as a pitch-perfect vocalist, whose voice soars, with broomstick in tow, to the end of the sky, but as an actress, whose mannerisms as Winifred are a treat to watch. Moreover, D’Acciaro, who, as Mary abides amusing comparisons to Nia Vardalos, Roseanne Barr, and Rosie O’Donnell, has terrifically malevolent facial expressions, and particularly shines when she finally gets her solo during Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.” Stillwell, likewise, skillfully plays off droll comparisons to her character’s originator (Sarah Jessica Parker), and delivers a seductively compelling rendering of “Lady Marmalade.”
Another standout performer is Tom DeTrinis, who fully commits to three separate roles – Binx, the black cat, “stuck in cosplay form;” Jay, the street thug; and Mama Dennison (these parts are shared with E.K. Dagenfield). His Binx is undoubtedly the most memorable, as it is a performance that is effortlessly funny because of how much feline-inspired sass and genuine absurdity DeTrinis brings to the role. For instance, his extravagant indignation about being being compared to Salem, the black cat, from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” might be worth the price of admission alone. As Jay, DeTrinis plays the faux tough-guy with a great conviction, and, along with Nathan Moore, does an invigorating mash-up of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Moore, who is double-cast with Spencer Strong Smith, is responsible for five roles (Emily, Ice, Papa Dennison, Billy Butcherson, Satan), all of whom demand discrete characterizations. Moore stands out because of his versatility, and the little nuances that make all the difference in the world. For example, as Billy Butcherson, a revived zombie corpse, Moore has a captivating presence about him at the close of Act I, while the cast is singing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Even though Butcherson is a mute, Moore’s unique vocalizations are able to evoke a fantastic reaction from the audience.
Jordan Goodsell plays the exceedingly sexually frustrated Max Dennison (shared with Jason Michael Snow), and thus gives a tremendously energetic and appropriately awkward performance. The object of Max’s affection is the “exposition at best” Allison, who is played by Ashley Argota (alternated with Emily Morris). As Max and Allison, Goodsell and Argota share a spectacularly comical chemistry, and even show off their musical talent by simultaneously singing Green Day’s “Basket Case” and Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi.” The two turn the dial to eleven, underscoring the ludicrousness of their characters with a tongue-in-cheek quality that pulls us in for the side-splitting ride.
Last, but not least, is the underrated Caitlin Gallogly, who as Dani (a role shared with Lana McKissack), never misfires with her laugh-out-loud delivery and impeccable comic timing. Having played Kevin McCallister in “The UMPO Home Alone” last December, Gallogly once again excels at playing a pre-pubescent persona, which is easier said than done, and is referenced with an unforgettable line. As Dani, she is not only a fiery ball of jocularity, but also brings the house down with a masterful vocal demonstration of The Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started.”
Without a doubt, it would behoove those in the Southern California area to go “off to the graveyard restaurant” at the Rockwell Table & Stage to become immersed in “The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Hocus Pocus,” which is a fantastic inclusion in the consistently entertaining UMPO series. With renowned hits galore — and even a pastiche of 31 Halloween-esque songs performed in under four minutes at the beginning of Act II — the musical value is off the charts. Suffice it to say, the comedy doesn’t disappoint, either. The Sanderson Sisters, and the characters who try to stifle their goals, have never been more colorfully indecorous and wryly haunting, which should pique the interest of anyone who enjoys basking in the naughty spirit of Halloween, or just simply desires a great time.
For more information, and to purchase tickets to “The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Hocus Pocus,” please visit rockwell-la.com