Halloween lurks and looms. Witch means (see what we did there?) it’s time to take a look at some really great harpies, hags, conjurers and spellcasters from stage and screen. Here’s a Ten List since we had too much toil and trouble trying to figure out how to rank the best witchy stories and characters ever.
Into the Woods
You thought we’d start with Wicked, didn’t you? Ah-ha! A trick!
This Sondheim favorite would fall apart without the machinations of Witch, who plays a pivotal role in the entire plot (as witches do). When Into the Woods—which is a wild adaptation of Grimm and Charles “Cinderella” Perrault fairy tales—opened on Broadway in 1987, guess who played Witch? (Answer at bottom).
As noted, witches tend to co-opt a story, sending hapless protagonists straight to madness and/or death. Nobody does it better that The Weird Sisters, Shakespeare’s trio of heath-living hags, who show up smack-dab in the middle of Macbeth’s victory lap to plant some pretty poisonous prophecies in his soldier’s brain. If anything, these ladies teach us eye of newt is not to be trifled with. Not at all.
Here we are! Wicked. The Wicked Witch of the West gets a name, a backstory, a psychology, a friend. What is not to love about this show? And the original Broadway cast? Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey, Norbert Leo Butz. Fuggedaboutit. So here’s another trivia question … Norbert Leo Butz, who played Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero, later starred on what Netflix series set in the Florida Keys? (See below.)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
No matter whether this tale comes to life on the page, on the stage, in animation or on the big screen, children everywhere remember the shameful temptation of Turkish delight thanks to the frosty witch of this classic. The White Witch solidifies, literally, her glorious evil by freezing Mr. Tumnus and then we feel great about hating her for the rest of the story.
So, this colorful little film turned 25 this year and is seeing a well-deserved anniversary celebration. After years with cult status, coven status?, the film’s characters landed lead roles in Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, putting them in league with Disney’s witches, the Who’s Who of pop culture witchery. The poorly-reviewed Sanderson Sisters in the movie—powered by a buck-toothed Bette Midler, rubber-faced Kathy Najimy, and ultra-curvy “straight man” Sarah Jessica Parker—get their revenge at last, which, like destroying the main characters’ lives, also seems to be the destiny of great witch characters.
The Wizard of Oz
When you have an army of flying monkeys in jaunty fezes and matching capes, you are next level wicked. When you set fire to a straw person whose only desire in life is to have a brain, you are the worst. And then you threaten a dog. This is so much evil we can’t write another word about it.
Okay, back up. Even though the characters in the Arthur Miller classic about falsely accusing people of being witches so they get killed is technically about fictional fake witches, the point of the whole story is that real humans can be eaten by fears that turn them even more evil than someone who ignites a scarecrow-man. Leave it to Mr. Miller to use witches as deconstructed symbolism that are no fun at all.
Where to start, where to start … J.K. Rowling’s global takeover with this story repackaged witchcraft and wizardry that made not only magic cool as all get out but also—school. Witch school was the place everyone wanted to be, even the disgusting warped force of soul-splintered evil driving the main story arc. The question here is, who’s your favorite witch—McGonagall? Bellatrix? Fleur? Hermione? Ginny? Ginny was the best, right? Or Nymphadora? Too many choices.
A Wrinkle in Time
A very huge shout out to any story that successfully mixes quantum physics and witches. The universe and its mind-bending sub-atomic particle activity is in the capable metaphysical, zen-like hands of Mmes. Who, Whatsit and Which. Here we have a trinity of good witches marshalling a girl to heroic super-heights in negative space and it’s an interesting read. That in and of itself is powerful conjuring.
The Witches of Eastwick and The Craft
We said ten list, but here we have an Eleven List. Another trick! Ha-ha!
Truthfully, we again faced insurmountable indecision. If this Halloween-y blog was worth its salt, we’d have a Thirteen List, wouldn’t we? However, our last two screen covens represent the perennial attraction of witches but to different generations. Beautiful women, unlimited power. Cher on the one hand, Neve Campbell on the other. Even Jack Nicholson couldn’t survive in a world of Susan Sarandon’s magic (may be factual), but let’s face it: Michelle Pfeiffer has zero trouble casting a spell. Zero.
We’ve tricked you a few times in this blog, so how about a treat? Come see other famous witches when the Opera Tampa Singers perform The Witching Hour on Oct. 26 from 7-8 p.m. in the Jaeb Courtyard. It’s FREE!
How’d you do with your trivia?
1. Bernadette Peters played Witch in the original Broadway Into the Woods.
2. Norbert Leo Butz starred in Bloodline as the flighty youngest brother Kevin Rayburn.
3. Treat! Our favorite Potter witch is Nymphadora. No, Hermione. We mean Ginny!