For the second show of its 50th Anniversary season, Orange Park Community Theatre (OPCT) took on the 1950 classic, Bell, Book and Candle. In a bewitchingly fun version, the audience, to paraphrase Aunt Queenie, was giggling and giggling (and laughing) pretty consistently throughout. Considering this script is almost 70 years old and has spawned two well-known movies (its namesake and Spellbound) and a TV series (Bewitched), there is a large shadow from which they have admirably stepped.
It is unusual to critique two consecutive shows by the same director. Sara Green has cast this impeccably, each character bringing their own distinct personality to the stage. This show relies on acting and staging to pull off a realistically magical encounter – and this is done well by everyone. Don’t look for the dramatic movie version with Stewart and Novak; don’t look for the TV series with York/Sargent and Montgomery. This director and cast have created an enjoyable cross between the two.
Gillian Holroyd, wonderfully portrayed by Aimee Ortiz, is a talented witch who is unsure of what she wants in life. She longs for the companionship of “normal” people and finds herself attracted to her upstairs neighbor, Shep Henderson. While Aimee brings a flirty, grounded personality, George Hawkins’ humorous, energetic and amiable Shep holds nice contrast in the relationship.
Shep is engaged to be married – to Gillian’s high school nemesis. When Gillian finds out, she decides she wants to get Shep with a love spell cast by speaking to her familiar, Pyewacket. A rescued cat from OPCT’s colony playing the onstage role was a surprise. Popper Green seemed to steal the audience’s hearts, given the reaction during curtain calls.
Three other very talented individuals consistently interfere with or interrupt Gillian and Shep’s relationship. The ditsy Aunt Queenie is hilariously played by Carol Louisgnan, who reminds me somewhat of Marion Lorne (Aunt Clara, Bewitched). Then there is the sibling rivalry provided by Randall Tompkins as Gillian’s flambouyant brother, Nicky. Last, but in no way least, is Jack Bisson, who we recently saw in The Music Man and is now a fun – and convincing – drunk author, Redlitch.
There are not only fireworks as spells are cast, but also as human discovers the truth about magic. Spell or not, the chemistry between Gillian and Shep is undeniable, and love conquers in the end.
The set, costumes and lighting are not nearly as elaborate as Ms. Green’s last show, but the script does not call for that. It is nicely done and colorful. There is another interesting magical piece of woodwork that one can see being changed towards the end to minimize time between scene changes, all of which are bridged with music.
For an enjoyable, magical evening, I recommend this classic. The audience was quite mixed across men, women, and even ages, with everyone around me seeming to laugh, chuckle, giggle throughout the show. There is light swearing by today’s standards (the “h” and “d” words) and lots of kissing, so decide whether you want to bring youngsters accordingly. Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for students for all performances. Student rate includes children and college students with ID.
Bell, Book and Candle runs through November 3. Orange Park Community Theatre is located at 2900 Moody Avenue in Orange Park. For reservations or information, you can go to www.opct.info, call 904-276-2599 or go to www.showtixnow.com. Their season continues with the musical Company, then two more classics: Night of January 16th (in January) and closing with Singing in the Rain.