Bell, Book and Candle

Bret Olsen (front), Jessie Porter and Idgie the cat star in OmniArts Nebraska's production of "Bell, Book and Candle."

OmniArts Nebraska

In the OmniArts production of the comedy “Bell, Book and Candle,” Jessie Porter portrays a witch, but she doesn’t twitch her nose and mouth to cast a spell.

As fans of “Bewitched” -- the classic TV series inspired by the Broadway play -- know that’s how Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stephens did it.

“I have a pretty focused stare instead,” Porter said with a laugh. “And I use my cat.”

Cat? A real or a stuffed one?

“It's a real cat,” Porter said. “It has a pretty calm temperament. It’s very friendly and has this melodious purr. It’s very well-behaved.”

OmniArts begins a four-performance run of "Bell, Book and Candle" Thursday at the Johnny Carson Theater.

Written by John Van Druten, “Bell, Book and Candle” is the story of Gillian Holroyd (Porter), who can cast spells and perform feats of supernaturalism. With the help of her familiar, a cat named Pyewacket, she casts a spell on Shepherd Henderson (Bret Olsen) -- partly to keep him away from a rival and partly because she’s attracted to him.

He falls head over heels in love with her and wants to marry her. But witches, unfortunately, cannot fall in love. This minute imperfection leads to a number of amusing difficulties.

Directed by OmniArts co-founder Dustin Witte, the cast also includes Anthony Delaney, Deirdre Barney, Danny Johnson and Idgie, one of three cats owned by Witte and OmniArts' other co-founder Daniel Kubert.

Named for one of the lead characters in "Fried Green Tomatoes," the black cat (of course, it's black) won a "rigorous audition," Witte joked. And though Idgie only has three scenes, Witte and Porter expect the cat to steal every one of them.

"It's a tricky thing to work with animals on stage," Porter said. "It doesn't matter if they're calm or twitchy, people will be captivated by them."

The original "Bell, Book and Candle" ran for 233 performances on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre from November 1950 to June 1951. It starred Lilli Palmer as Gillian and Rex Harrison as Shepherd. In 1958, a year after Van Druten’s death, Richard Quine directed the movie version starring Kim Novak and James Stewart.

“Bewitched” hit TV six years later and ran until 1972. Nicole Kidman starred in “Bewitched” movie remake in 2005.

Looking for something different for the holidays -- the play begins during the Christmas season -- Witte landed on Van Druten’s comedy.

“It seemed like one of those great old plays that nobody does anymore,” he said.

Indeed, no Lincoln theater has done it in recent memory. The Lincoln Community Playhouse staged performances of it in 1953 and 1983.

Witte said he first became familiar with the work years ago while working at the Theatre of the American West (now called the Harlan Country Dam Playhouse) in Republican City. The theater had a cat named Pyewacket, prompting him to read the play.

“I’ve since seen the movie,” he said. “It’s become one of my favorites. It’s one of those offbeat Christmas movies.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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Features editor

Jeff Korbelik is the features editor and covers dining, performing arts, TV and local media. Follow him at @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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