Miss Gulch Returns!

Is this theatrical reboot better than the cabaret original? Let’s discuss.

By Andrew Andrews

Steven Patterson stars as Miss Almira Gulch at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill. Tom Judson accompanies Patterson on piano. Original production photos by John Sowle.

Does the name Almira Gulch ring a bell?

In The Wizard of Oz, she’s the bike-riding neighbor who confiscated Dorothy’s dog Toto before transforming into the Wicked Witch of the West.

In Miss Gulch Returns!, a cabaret singer at a men’s club flirts with the frumpy prude before he transforms into her.

Gulch takes over as the performer, and uses her position on stage to complain about her treatment in the film, her later difficulties as an entertainer, and—most of all—how lonely she feels without a man.

Thirty-plus years after composer Fred Barton originated the piece in a Greenwich Village nightclub, Bridge Street Theatre brings it to their proscenium stage as a one man show with piano accompaniment.

Patterson first appears as a cabaret performer before transforming into Gulch.

Miss Gulch Returns! is a case of a great idea… poorly implemented.

Unlike the more famous musical Wicked, which tells the witch’s story from her viewpoint to draw you into the drama, the earlier Gulch is nothing more than a lighthearted musical revue of songs you’ve probably never heard before—and likely will never hear again.

The numbers intertwine with anecdotes that seem to be told more by the actor who portrayed Gulch than by the character herself. In the case of the classic 1939 film, that actor was Margaret Hamilton, and she achieved great success for long after appearing in Oz until retiring (coincidentally) to the Hudson Valley.

Based on video footage, Barton’s original performances felt more like a drag stand-up comedy routine than a theatrical production. In a venue where flowing alcohol and raging hormones divert the audience’s attention from the stage, the holes and inconsistencies in this story would probably be less noticeable, and the campy delivery more enjoyable.

My partner and I agreed that this production deserves more than two stars but fewer than three, more likely due to the material and setting than the quality of its presentation.

Unable to award half-stars, we also agreed to err on the side of caution… and round down.

2

Andrew Andrews attended Miss Gulch Returns! at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill on Thursday, September 9, 2021 @ 7:30pm to write this review.