Well, it had been a few years since I’d seen a Late Night Theatre show, and a few minutes into “Black Bewitched” I could see that the all the essential ingredients were still in place: It was raucous, rowdy, raw and relentless in its efforts to get laughs from a willing audience.
The performance space at Missie B’s, the 39th Street bar known for its drag shows, is about as intimate and/or cramped as any storefront theater that comes to mind.
For this kind of show, that’s a good thing. Many of the theatergoers, seated elbow-to-elbow, were easily within sweat-flinging distance of the actors at the Sunday matinee. And the performers more than once left the stage and shimmied into the audience.
Ron Megee, the Late Night co-founder who directed and wrote “Black Bewitched” with Jessica Dressler, served as emcee. In that role he encouraged theatergoers to drink – he calls what he does at Missie B’s “bar theater” – and it seems logical that a couple of stiff drinks might enhance a person’s appreciation of Late Night’s rude, crude and over-the-top humor.
As the title suggests, the show re-imagines the 1960s sitcom “Bewitched,” which was built around an attractive young witch and her befuddled suburban husband, as though portrayed by African-American actors.
Act 1 is essentially a “Bewitched” episode in which Samantha has to manage her meddling mother, Endora (also a witch), who wants to throw a Halloween party over hubby Darrin’s objections. Act II is a repetition of the same plot on acid.
Megee throws in plenty of musical numbers, almost all of them pop hits from earlier eras.
Some are lip-synced while others are performed with live vocals and Karaoke backing tracks. “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Think,” “Loop de Loop,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Rock Steady” and “Witchy Woman,” among others, are woven into the show.
The performers all have their moments.
Thanks in large part to Jon Fulton Adams’ costumes, Ray Fry as Endora dominates the stage like an opulent decorated cake in Dayglo wigs and makeup that brings to mind legendary drag star Divine. (Andy Chambers is credited with makeup and hair design). Ryan Webster as Samantha is poised and knows just how to twirl Samantha’s blonde wig; Webster also gets some big laughs at a certain point in the show when he appears in an ill-fitting Afro wig, which virtually conceals his face.
Some of the most memorable humor is generated by Stephonne Singleton as Aunt Clara.
Meredith Wolfe, as Uncle Arthur, is a revelation when she prances out in Act II and performs James Brown’s “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” paired with “Sex Machine.” Wolfe can sing but she also taps into the Brown persona and rivets our attention.
Kory Burch has some amusing moments but Darrin, as he was on the original TV show, is a straight man who sets up the comic antics of the other characters.
Nothing is too nonsensical for a Late Night show. There’s an actor in a bear suit. An abominable snowman shows up. Actors crack themselves and each other up. Loretta Martin, one of Missie B’s drag stars, made a “guest” appearance at the Sunday show. And the matinee audience couldn’t get enough.
There’s some funny stuff in this show but it could have been funnier. The Late Night aesthetic leans to onstage anarchy, not precise comic timing.