After two years of virtual fun and frights during the pandemic shutdown of theaters, the annual Halloween benefit I Put a Spell on You, presented by Kampfire Films and Jay Armstrong Johnson (The Phantom of the Opera, On the Town, ABC’s Quantico), who created and stars in the spooky spoof, returns live to NYC’s Sony Hall on Sunday, October 23, for an over-the-top night of parodying and paying tribute to the cult-classic movie Hocus Pocus. If you can’t make it in person, the performance will be recorded and available for streaming on Broadway on Demand beginning on October 30, at 7 pm, and for the following four days. Proceeds from both the live and virtual formats will provide support for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The “concert-meets-party” follows the tale of the bewitching Sanderson Sisters, who, in their search to find beauty, youth, and immortality, return from the dead and gather their most famous friends to help them lure the children of NYC with fantastic performances and over-the-top theatrical magic. The night, for which audience members are invited to dress up in their favorite Halloween garb and enter the costume contest to win prizes, begins with pre-show escapades and ends with a blowout dance party DJ’d by VELEZ&PARADA.
Johnson returns as Winifred Sanderson, along with Allison Robinson and Amanda Williams Ware as sisters Sarah and Mary. Along with a large ensemble cast is a roster of Broadway stars and special guests that includes Major Attaway (Aladdin), Nick Rashad Burroughs (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical), Tony Award winner Gavin Creel (Into the Woods), Tony nominee Robyn Hurder (A Beautiful Noise), two-time Grammy winner Tamika Lawrence (Caroline, or Change), Julia Mattison (Godspell), Tomás Matos (Hadestown), Alanna Saunders (Harry Potter & the Cursed Child), Claire Saunders (The Intern), Heath Saunders (Company), James Scully (Hulu’s Fire Island), Alysha Umphress (On the Town), Arianna Rosario (Spielberg’s West Side Story), Matt Rivera (Chu’s In The Heights), transgender singer and LGBTQ activist Mila Jam, and queens Kiki Ball-Change and Marti Gould Cummings.
During their busy rehearsal week prior to this Sunday’s performance, Jay and co-producer Katie Rosin from Kampfire Films graciously took the time to answer my questions about the show, its history, and what fans can expect in this year’s installment.
What is it about Hocus Pocus?
Jay: Before I was performing theater, Halloween was the holiday that gave me my first taste of what meant to transform into a character. Hocus Pocus embodied all that I loved about my favorite holiday, and the performances given by Bette, SJP, and Kathy blew my little queer mind. When I am asked what my favorite movie is, the answer is always Hocus Pocus, and while I can often be given the side eye, I stand by it.
When did you first decide to create I Put a Spell on You and how many years have you been doing it?
Jay: It started out over seven years ago as an album release turned Halloween party for my debut album Jay Armstrong Johnson LIVE at Feinstein’s 54 Below (available on iTunes and anywhere you can stream music). It was originally called Jay’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, a take on the seasonal event at Disney World. For the past two years we have been virtual (due to you know what) and we are so happy to be back LIVE this year, while still offering our virtual audiences the show on Broadway on Demand.
What inspired you to become involved as a producer, and what do you love most about it?
Katie: Having always been riddled with stage fright, I realized that behind the scenes and making productions happen was where I found real joy. I have worked this way for the majority of my career, in publicity, marketing, and producing. I find great joy in making things happen, my love language is taking care of others, and being a producer embodies that trait so wonderfully.
What’s the format for the live show, and for the audience attending at Sony Hall?
Jay: The show is a series of production numbers performed by Broadway’s best, playing iconic villains from Pop culture supported by an unbelievable ensemble of dancers. We have a four-piece band and three backup singers supported by tracks to allow for more electronic sounds in our more contemporary pop tunes. The musical numbers are strewn together by the iconic narrative of the Sanderson Sisters seeking to feed off the lives of children to stay young and beautiful forever. There is an hour-long pre-show party DJ’d by VELEZ&PARADA, where ticket holders can purchase food and drink, dance, take photos in their Halloween costumes, and prepare for the return of the Sanderson Sisters. VIP guests have the option to be seated in the banquettes around the perimeter of the hall while the general-admission dance-floor ticket holders stand and are a part of the of the action.
What do you hope viewers, both live and online, take away from it?
Jay: I hope viewers can take away the kind of joy and excitement that Hocus Pocus initially gave me as a kid. I also hope there is more awareness around the incredible organization Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The work they do reaches far beyond Broadway to over 450 social-service programs nationwide to provide housing, life-saving medication, and emergency services to those who need it most.
Katie: My hope is for our viewers both live and online to have the best time of their lives! The performers are giving their all onstage and audiences are in for a treat. Celebrating Halloween is such a favorite for so many people, and along with that is the beloved film Hocus Pocus. This party embodies so many things people love about both – dressing up, singing, dancing, and being spooky. We are thrilled our national viewers can also enjoy celebrating with us, and, as Jay mentioned, learn about the incredible and integral organization Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which just this week sent financial support to the hurricane-ravaged Florida coast.
Many thanks to both of you for giving our readers a sneak peek at this year’s exciting show and for your ongoing support of Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS.
I Put a Spell on You: ALIVE at Sony Hall plays on Sunday, October 23, 2022, at 8 pm (doors open at 7), at Sony Hall, 235 West 46th Street, NYC. For tickets (starting at $35 for dance floor general admission; sponsorship and VIP packages are also available), go online. All attendees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and masks are strongly recommended. The event will be recorded live and will stream on Broadway On Demand beginning at 7 pm, Sunday, October 30, and will be available for the next four days. For tickets (priced at $35), click here.