It feels like Disney fans and musical theatre die-hards have been waiting as long as the Sanderson Sisters waited for a virgin to light the black-flame candle to finally get a stage musical adaptation of Hocus Pocus.
Even after Playbill.com dream cast an imaginary Hocus Pocus musical last year, which our readers went wild for, we still haven't heard a peep from Kenny Ortega about a Broadway version of the spooky, family friendly musical.
Since we couldn't wait as long as it took for Newsies to finally hit Broadway, we decided to have a little fun and make some magic of our own.
Playbill.com has enlisted composer-lyricist Joey Contreras, whose style straddles the worlds of pop and musical theatre, to take a stab at the 1993 horror film — a staple on modern pop culture. Prior to the November release of his sophomore pop/musical theatre album, "Young Kind of Love" (featuring the voices of twentysomethings from the world of Broadway), the contemporary songwriter — whose influences range from Sara Bareilles to Leonard Bernstein — takes us through the world of "Hocus Pocus," as if it were adapted for the stage.
Hopefully Glinda and Elphaba won't be too jealous. *
It's Halloween and here in New York City, we do it like no other. Children trick or treat brownstone to brownstone; adults bar seat to bar seat, and the Real Haunted Houses of New York City are the Spirit Halloween Super Stores, imperializing commuter routes everywhere, one "Mistress Maid" costume at a time.
Now sure, some may argue that everyday in NYC is Halloween. I once took the subway to a Lady Gaga costume party in March and no one even flinched at me wearing a wax paper dress and blue telephone helmet. But in a city that is maybe at times numb to its own eccentricities, we are still always searching for a chance to slip into a little childlike nostalgia and disappear into a world of fantasy. For one ghoulish night, we need a place to unleash our inner dorks and just surrender to what All Hallows Eve has to offer.
That's when "Hocus Pocus" comes into play: yes, that ridiculous and delicious Bette Midler movie with a pre-"Sex and the City" Sarah Jessica Parker, where three sister witches come back to life after 300 years, because a virgin lights the cursed black light candle. And now… they are thirsty for youth.
For over 20 years, people have delighted in this film and many have fantasized about adapting it for the stage. It certainly has all the elements that are key to a hit musical. Character, action, a built-in audience - not to mention, room for a little bit of spectacle. Broadway has been able to entice the masses and capitalize with holiday-based musicals in the past, but I don't see this as a Broadway show. Instead, I envision an annual one-night-only Hocus Pocus spooktacular, where the worlds of Broadway, film and music collide in support of a charity and pure entertainment. With additional music and lyrics by Joey Contreras, of course.
Imagine: The audience is ushered in to the center of a large theatrical space. It's Halloween (or near it), so this audience is probably costumed-up as cast members from "Orange Is The New Black" (Julianne Hough, don't make the same mistake), outdated twerking Mileys, some punny attempts, a vampire or two and probably even a freaking "Mistress Maid." Everyone's got their buzz on and is excited for this sparkly musicalized retelling of a film near and dear to their hearts. The lights go down and suddenly the eerie "Come, Little Children" begins.
For this premiere performance, we have an all-star cast. Bernadette Peters (Winnie), Patti LuPone (Mary) and Kristin Chenoweth (Sarah) as the Sanderson Sisters, Zac Efron as Max Dennison (catch the Kenny Ortega connection?), Anna Kendrick as Allison (because she should be in any and everything), Carly Rose Sonenclar making her grand return to theatre as Dani (and also my way of letting me pick her brain about having Britney Spears as a mentor on "X Factor"). And, all the teenage girls will go wild for Harry Styles as Thackery Binx.
Speaking of Thackery Binx, how do you solve a problem like a talking cat? Well I propose not one, but two possible directions to be tested in various workshops. One - Harry Styles gets a bootcamp in puppetry and we Avenue Q it up with a black cat in his hand. Two - Harry Styles goes full Mr. Mistoffelees. Which would you prefer? Tight black catsuit? I agree.
Like the love child between Broadway Bares, Heathers and RL Stein, this immersive event would stay true to its story and style, but with amped-up kitsch and sex appeal. I mean, the movie is really about a boy whose virginity put Salem, MA in danger. My work as a musical writer is to supply the night with some exciting, infectious and emotionally-satisfying tunes that really feed in to the subtext of these characters. What are Book's inner thoughts? Why are Jay and Ice such D-bags? Questions that can easily be solved with some creative license and a melody.
While the classic songs from the film would still be there, a Joey Contreras take on Hocus Pocus would not be complete without the following:
"We're Young! (Well… Younger)" A sassy trio number a la TLC or Destiny's Child. The Sanderson Sisters have just sucked the life out of Thackery's sister, Emily, and their transformation is complete. They are feeling fierce, wild and free and this song would exude something of a runway-ready anthem. Almost vogueing to the beat, Patti belts, "We're YOUNG!" with Bernadette side-eyeing and bluntly singing, "…well younger." I even imagine Kristin delivering a sweet sassy rap for the breakdown: "Brew another batch / Bring it to a boil / Gonna find a catch / A girl or a boy, who'll / Make us look younger / Make us complete / Come, little children / I'll trick, you treat." WORD.
"Make a Believer Out of Me" - An earnest but flirtatious driving ballad sure to be the next overdone audition song for tenors across America. Max to Allison: "Help this young dumb boy from LA / Start to see things your way / If witches and curses are strangely your heart's key / Then come on, let's go, make a believer out of me," he mix-belts over the syncopated groove.
"Lit By a Virgin (on Halloween Night)" A campy "South Park"-esque showstopper featuring a flurry of spirits all leading up to the big resurrection of the Sanderson Sisters.
"Take It to the Grave" An expositional but still active melodic song sung by Thackery Binx leads our three heroes to the graveyard, where the witches cannot land due to its hallowed ground. Here we learn more about his struggles, his woes, his circumstances before suddenly — the Sisters are seen "flying" (okay maybe on raised platforms depending on if we can get these three Broadway Queens to agree to harnesses) over the grave. Winnie summons her ex-lover Billy Butcherson from the dead to chase Max, Allison and Dani out. Cue chase sequence set to an underscored medley of "Take It to the Grave" and "Lit By a Virgin." Ah, MUSICAL THEATRE!
Keeping the action moving, my Hocus Pocus wouldn't have an act break, but would certainly still include numbers you'd expect from a traditional book musical. For instance, the 11 o'clock number sung by Allison, entitled "If I Had Some Salt," is an ode to battling life's greatest challenges: school quizzes, ex-boyfriends, life-sucking witches, the usual. Feeling discouraged after a failed attempt at destroying the witches, Allison seeks solace in a salt can, hoping a circle of seasoning will protect her.
The final action scene is certainly full of emotion and excitement. Using more projections than Ghost: The Musical, the Sanderson Sisters have captured Dani, Max volunteers as tribute (oops, wrong movie), Thackery is knocked out unconscious, and it appears that the Sisters will have won. Just as Max's soul is about to be fully consumed by Bernadette/Winnie, we have a gorgeous dream ballet, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. Our stars are substituted by the dancers of On the Town, and some melody that I have written will be expanded incredibly by the divine orchestrations of Stephen Oremus. Life is just about over for Max, but then… BUT THEN… the sun rises and the witches explode before the final pas de deux.
Covered in witches' remains (glitter that has doused the whole audience), the citizens of Salem sing the finale "Hocus Pocus (Now in Focus)." It's peppy, it's self-aware and a real toe-tapper. "One night of mystery / A little bit of hocus pocus / Can bring new clarity / And now my life is back in focus." Yeah, still workshopping this one.
In conclusion, yes, Halloween in NYC is already like no other and dense with celebration opportunities, but you have to admit, if anywhere could pull this off, it's New York City.
Let's just hope we don't have to wait 300 years for a virgin to green light this candle.