By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Have I told you recently, dear readers, how much I admire Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith’s music, book and lyric writing, not to mention directing talents? Did I say acting, too? “Witch,” which is having its World Premiere this month at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church, features music by Matt Conner, book and lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith and co-direction by both. Smith has won a Helen Hayes Award for Acting and Conner is nominated this year for a Helen Hayes Award for his direction of “Blues in the Night” at this theatre.
Well, if I didn’t make my admiration of their talents clear in my Zebra Newspaper review of Creative Cauldron’s “Kaleidoscope” in 2017, I’ll try again with the current production of “Witch.” These two local young men are brilliantly creative and Creative Cauldron, in their Producing Director Laura Conners Hull’s wisdom, launched the “Bold New Work for Intimate Stages” initiative in 2015 funded by two donors, Jon Wiant and Mike Blank and the “Bold New Works” fund. Matt and Stephen have now written and produced four of the planned five Bold New Works–one every year since 2015. Stay tuned for news about their new work for 2019!
Now, about “Witch.” Producing Director Hull said it best, “’Witch’ channels the zeitgeist of the current ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements while examining the cultural roots of misogyny and inequality across centuries and cultures and has given us perhaps the most insightful, provocative work to date. It celebrates the feminine spirit and those who have dared to challenge the traditional order, while providing us a fascinating and entertaining evening of musical theatre.” And so it does!
We are treated to some of the best musical performances I’ve seen at Creative Cauldron (and that’s saying a lot!) by these gifted ladies: Iyona Blake (Destiny), Florence Lacey (Becky), Catherine Purcell (Molly), and Susan Derry (Maggie). Also rounding out the cast are the delightful young women who play their daughters and granddaughters: Sophia Manicone (Fiona), Samaria Delloroso (Mary), and Arianna Vargas (Marie).
The show hangs on a simple framework of the 2017 Woman’s March and recounts injustices “witches” throughout history have faced while juxtaposing these tales with modern struggles for equality. This group of seven women and girls has their own theatrical-style protest during the march, recounting through signs, songs and stories the tales of strong women who have faced misogyny through history.
“Witch” in this iteration is simply a woman who won’t be controlled by men and who is then put down or quieted in some manner or other, and is most definitely not our perception of a Halloween witch. The best parts of this production are the rousing songs, like Iyona Blake’s galvanizing “Gambaga, The Tale of Ma Hawa”, and her thrilling toe-tapping rendition of “Sweep Them Out/The Tale of Current Times.” You can only guess what that’s about! Florence Lacey, who, if she just opens her mouth and breathes thrills me, sings beautifully as Becky in “Innocent/The Tale of Rebecca Nurse”. Catherine Purcell and Susan Derry bring it, in all their songs as well as part of the entire company of seven.
It’s quite an evening of discovery and revelation, not the least of which is courtesy of the four musicians, directed by Warren Freeman. The lighting design by Lynn Joslin and sound design by Andrew Nason are both on point too and are very much characters in this fascinating show.
I think you will want to see “Witch” for the powerful tale told by Matt and Stephen about misogyny as experienced by women through the ages, but stay for the divine music Matt has written for four powerful, never-to-be-controlled women of the stage. Boom!
Ticket and Performance Information:
Creative Cauldron’s World Premiere Musical, “Witch”, Music by Matt Conner, book and lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith, runs April 12-May 6, 2018 at Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace, Falls Church 2, 410 S Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046. Free parking in the 410 and 400 S Maple Building Garages. For tickets call 703-436-9948 or click on www.creativecauldron.org. Adults: $30; Seniors and Military: $26; Students: $20; Groups of 10 or more: $18.