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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ set as audio reading in Door County

Critic At Large

Peninsula Players Theatre

Production poster.

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Peninsula Players Theatre will continue its winter play reading series online March 1 with an audio play reading of John Van Druten’s whimsical comedy “Bell, Book and Candle.”

According to a press release: Admission is limited to 300 households. See onthestage.com/peninsula-players-theatre to register for free access at 7 p.m. CST Monday, March 1. Donations are welcomed.

Normally, the company presents its winter readings at Bjorklunden lodge with an audience, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought a shift to online presentations.

Snapshot: Gillian is a free-spirited 20-something (in appearance in human years) who is restless in life and unlucky in love. She also happens to be from a family of witches and warlocks. When Gillian learns an old rival is engaged to her upstairs neighbor, an attractive publisher named Shepherd “Shep” Henderson, Gillian puts a spell on him to stop the wedding. Shep immediately becomes enamored with Gillian, and they then spend nearly every waking moment together. Amid the hocus pocus, she finds herself falling for him. Gillian turns to her eccentric yet understanding Aunt Queenie and her brother, Nicky, for advice when Shep proposes. Will Gillian keep her powers, or will love cast its own spell?    

“Bell, Book and Candle” was first produced on Broadway in 1950 with Rex Harrison as Shep and his wife, Lilli Palmer, as Gillian. It was adapted to film in 1958 with James Stewart and Kim Novak as the star-crossed lovers and also featured Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs and Elsa Lanchester. 

In 1957, “Bell, Book and Candle” closed the Peninsula Players season, which at the time only ran to Labor Day weekend. Harvey Korman (later of TV’s “The Carol Burnett Show” fame) portrayed Shep. Judith Haviland, Maurice Ottinger and Helen Bragdon completed the family trio.

The current audio production of Peninsula Players Theatre is directed by is under the direction of Kevin Christopher Fox and is a part of “The Play’s the Thing,” the theater’s winter play reading series. 

Cast as the bewitching Gillian is Peninsula Players associate artistic director Linda Fortunato (“The Outsider,” formerly “A Real Lulu,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Wait Until Dark”).

The lovestruck Shep is Mike Jimerson (“Murders in the Rue Morgue”). 

Miss Holroyd, Gillian’s eccentric and mischievous aunt, is portrayed by Penny Slusher (“Silent Sky,” “A Murder is Announced,” “The Hollow”). 

Sidney Redlitch, an author on the occult who is often rumpled and tipsy, is Greg Vinkler (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Now and Then,” “Butler”) the Peninsula Players’ artistic director. 

Making his Peninsula Players debut is Ric Walker as Gillian’s charming brother. 

Reading the stage directions will be Allison Selby Cook, who portrayed Dupin in “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

In Van Druten’s romantic comedy, love is an unfamiliar and even forbidden emotion for a witch; falling in love with a mortal means losing your powers. 

“Bell, Book and Candle” inspired the popular 1960s television shows “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Van Druten was an English playwright and director who began his career in London and later became a United States citizen. He studied law at London University and taught law at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth. Writing and literature were a secondary career for Van Druten until age 24 when his first successful play, “Young Woodley,” was produced. It has been adapted twice into films.

Van Druten once had five plays simultaneously on Broadway, all of which he directed. “The Voice of the Turtle,” was adapted into a film featuring Ronald Reagan; “I Remember Mama,” in which Marlon Brando made his Broadway debut and which was later filmed with Irene Dunn; “I Am a Camera,” the basis for the musical “Cabaret;” and “Bell, Book and Candle.” Rodgers and Hammerstein selected Van Druten to direct their musical, “The King and I,” which earned Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner Tony Awards for their performances.

Kevin Christopher Fox, who directed the recent audio plays “The Dust of Death,” “Murder in the Rue Morgue” and “Trifles.”

The cast’s artistic credits as performers are extensive and include many regional theaters, television, voice-over, film work, improvisation, directing and writing credits. 

“Patrons have expressed that they enjoy this radio-style collaboration that harkens us all back to days gone by,” said managing director Brian Kelsey. “We have presented several audio plays and readings during the pandemic. It is like cozying up with a good book and letting our imaginations create the setting. We are thrilled that ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ will be available to 300 households throughout the country.”

Peninsula Players Theatre bills itself as America’s Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre.

“The Play’s the Thing” is part of the company’s continuing winter outreach programming, presenting professional play readings for the public.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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