The Salem-witchy women known far and wide as the Sanderson Sisters are alive and well and working their black magic in Los Feliz as Rockwell Table & Stage reprises its absolutely spooktastic Unauthorized Musical Parody Of Hocus Pocus for Halloween season 2017.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy may have flopped at the box office when Disney debuted the original flick back in 1993, but the Kenny Ortega-directed comedy has since gone on to cult hit status, making it ripe for the kind of voodoo spoofery co-writers John Flynn and Kate Pazakis do do so well.

A show-opening flashback transports us to Salem, Massachusetts circa 1693, a time of political unrest when even “our own leaders were throwing in the towel … the paper towels,” and Thackery Binx (Tom DeTrinis), a spunky teen with “a totally normal attraction to his younger sister” (Wayne Moore’s Emily) sees her spirited away by Winifred (Emma Hunton), Mary (Gina D’Acciaro), and Sarah (Haviland Stillwell) Sanderson. (“Emily, keep your legs crossed! I’m coming to help!”)

Flash forward to 1993 Salem, where fresh-outta-L.A. newbie Max Dennison (Jordan Goodsell), whose Facebook status is “It’s Complicated” (“which means he’s a virgin who masturbates constantly”), and his mouthy kid sis Dani (Caitlin Gallogly), “a little girl, seven, maybe eight-and-a-half, possibly thirty-two but plays younger,” are about to fall victim to the Sandersons’ particular brand of evil, or will once Max has contended with town bullies Jay and “Ice” (DeTrinis and Moore) and gotten moral support (and a hard-on) from town hottie Allison (Ashley Argota). (“She says lines from the movie. She’s not going to be funny. She’s exposition at best.”)

If it’s not already clear by now, UMPO Hocus Pocus (directed with mucho pizzazz by Peter Allen Vogt) has its sassy tongue decidedly in cheek as virginal Max lights the “Black Flame Candle,” thereby bringing the Sanderson siblings back for one Halloween night … and longer if they can drain the life force from enough Salem children to last them an eternity.

Unfortunately for Winifred, Mary, and Sarah, Max is nothing if not determined to see them burn in hell (or at the very least in the local high school kiln), aided and abetted by Allison, Dani, and talking black cat Binx (DeTrinis), formerly Zachery and still carrying a torch for his prepubescent younger sister.

Along the way, audiences are treated to one Top-40 hit after another, from AC/DC’s “Highway To Hill” to Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” to a couple of mashups (Green Day’s “Basket Case” meets Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” The Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” meets DeBarge’s “Rhythm Of The Night”), and it wouldn’t be Halloween without Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” … and that’s just Act One.

About the only performers who could possibly match up to those reviewed here are the ones sharing their roles on alternate nights*, but they’ve got some big shoes to fill. (Only the inimitable Vogt, as Narrator and Book, is there for each and every performance.)

Hunton simply dazzles as the next best thing to Bette (her “I Put A Spell On You” put a spell on me) with stellar support from L.A. theater dynamo D’Acciaro and from Stillwell, doing her best deliciously dumb Sarah Jessica.

Goodsell wins hearts as fish-out-of-water Max, Argota lights up the stage as Allison, and Gallogly is a foul-mouthed preteen delight as Dani.

As for DeTrinis and Moore, each scores laughs galore in multiple roles (including as Max and Dani’s loopy parents), Moore earning bonus points as zombie hulk Billy Butcherson and as the Devil himself, and just wait till Billy and Binx get to do some pas-de-deuxing, just one of Katherine Tokarz’s crackerjack choreographic treats.

Vocal performances are Broadway/pop-charts-caliber all the way, particularly backed by musical director Gregory Nabours and his ace fellow band member Blake Strada, Emily Rosenfield, and Greg Sadler,.

Design kudos are shared by scenic designer Chadd Michael McMillan and lighting designer Joey Guthman for transforming Rockwell into Salem at its spookiest, and by McMillan for his frequently fast-morping costumes, in particular his spot-on recreations of the Sandersons’ signature looks. Sound designer David Evans has come up with some appropriately scary effects as well.

Pazakis is executive producer. Evans is technical director. McMillan is production stage manager, Ashley Balderrama is assistant stage manager, and Stephanie Lazard and Frankie Fronte are production coordinators. Stillwell and DeTrinis are dance captains. UMPO Hocus Pocus was originally staged by Tye Blue.

You don’t have to have seen Hocus Pocus The Movie to have one devilishly good time at Rockwell Table & Stage this month, but if you have, you’ll relish it even more. I’m guessing even the Sanderson Sisters would give The Unauthorized Musical Parody Of Hocus Pocus three brooms up!

*E.K. Dagenfield, Lana McKissack, Emily Morris, Teya Patt, Spencer Strong Smith, Jason Michael Snow, Laura L. Thomas, and Marissa Jaret Winokur. Alyssa V. Gomez, Janelle Lillian, Pazakis, and Robert Ramirez are swings.

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Rockwell Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
October 6, 2017

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