Inside the ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Blondie song performance

The following contains spoilers from the movie “Hocus Pocus 2” streaming now on Disney+.

In the middle of Hocus Pocus 2, Bette Midler barks a series of direct commands. “Clear the altar, everyone! Set the stage!” she says, letting everyone scurry around her.

“And you – try to keep up.”

That final instruction is aimed at a petrified four-piece rock band, but the same could be said of the sequel itself. The film, which debuts Friday on Disney+, attempts to replicate a rare feat from its 1993 predecessor: staging a musical number with villainous charisma, narrative action and a pinch of spooky – a formula that reinvented a well-known song as an iconic Halloween film moment for the legion of fans of the film.

The original Hocus Pocus sees Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as sibling witches desperate to extract children’s souls in order to preserve their own youth. The film’s director, Kenny Ortega, fresh off directing Newsies, had previously worked with Midler as assistant choreographer on the 1979 film The Rose and advised everyone to squeeze a song into Hocus Pocus. The idea initially met with some resistance – “This is a movie that will put you on the edge of your seat, and you’re going to stop it for this musical number?” said then-producer David Kirschner, noisy bustle – but Ortega won.

“Bette is such a brilliant artist and brave spirit, and she’s not afraid to break the rules when she performs,” ​​Ortega told The Times. “At the time, I just couldn’t imagine going through the whole of that movie without benefiting from her musical talent.”

The trio covered “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956 – a haunting track in itself, given its pounding blues rhythm, overtly lecherous lyrics and The R&B singer’s signature screams. Composer Marc Shaiman, who regularly collaborates with Midler in her on-screen and stage musical performances, arranged the track into a family-friendly showstopper that highlighted her soaring vocals and animated acting choices.

“That first verse had to be slower, more witchy and more mystical,” explains Shaiman. After Midler greeted an on-screen audience – a reference to the famous musical Gypsy, in which she had just played the leading role – “The pace kicks in, and then it’s a full-fledged Bette Midler performance, with a sort of Tina Turner or Janis Joplin energy and theatrical orchestration.”

Because Hawkins’ song is particularly short when it’s sped up, “we thought, what can we do to make this fit these characters and this actual moment in the film?” Shaiman recalls. “Bette and I, as we are used to, immediately started writing new lyrics. I remember we got really excited, ‘Your pathetic little lives have all been cursed/because all the witches work, I’m the worst,’ because we love real rhymes.”

Shaiman also added mysterious call-and-response vocals and vocal parts that mimicked Midler’s real backup singers, the Harlettes, which Parker and Najimy quickly learned. “Everything was like a kind of alchemy,” he says. “It just worked.”

The production allowed just one day to shoot the lavish sequence, which included the Sanderson sisters’ adorable performance in front of a costumed crowd at a Christmas party and a simultaneous chase between three children, a cat and a zombie. “We had to work fast, and since Bette is a consummate live performer, all it takes is a few takes with her and Kathy and Sarah and you’re done,” says Ortega.

“There was a great atmosphere on set and I remember lots of laughter and fun,” he continues. “The audience and crew hadn’t seen what we were doing until we rehearsed it live on the spot and everyone just loved what it was. And that started with Bette: she had a great sense of humor about her work and her character, which she often put up with. She just couldn’t believe some of the places Winifred Sanderson enabled her to go to and I just had to tell her, ‘Go on!’”

Though critics panned the film and the audio has yet to be released, the sequence has developed a cult-like popularity over the past three decades as the film has become a staple of the Halloween season. The song itself can be heard regularly at drag shows, live events at Disney Parks, and at Midler’s own concerts. Of course, “Hocus Pocus 2” – in which the Sanderson sisters rise from the dead and hunt down the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts – had to have its own rollicking cover art.

“It’s one of the things that fans universally love about the first film, so we knew they’d expect it,” says the sequel’s director Anne Fletcher, who worked with her longtime music supervisor Buck Damon to bring it to life to find right melody. “He and I went to town on every song under the sun that contained the word witch, moon, cat, evil, whatever. I didn’t try to compete with “I Put a Spell on You” because it’s perfect, you can’t compete with that. I just wanted to find something that totally fit the story and was super fun.”

After discussing Queen tracks and the Eurythmics-Aretha Franklin collaboration “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves”, Blondie’s 1979 release “One Way or Another” – a melodic rock hit that featured in the encounter of Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry was rooted to a stalker – “what a sore thumb,” says Fletcher, “because the Sanderson Sisters are looking for someone very specific.”

Three witches are standing in the middle of a drugstore.

Sarah Jessica Parker (left to right), Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy reprise their roles as the Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus 2.

(Matt Kennedy)

The lyrics were again tweaked by Shaiman and Midler to fit the plot with livelier verbs. Because of the song’s construction, “They all had to have three or four rhymes, like ‘We’re gonna grab ya/ I’ll nab ya/ I’ll jab ya,'” says Shaiman. “There’s a part that’s not in the movie where Bette and I went totally insane: ‘We’re going to kill you/then probably fillet/it might upset you/but we’re going to get you.’ We’ve worked really hard on it, and even if I think it’s good, there’s always going to be this call from Bette at night saying, ‘We need to fix this part.’ She endlessly strives for perfection.”

Once again, the Hocus Pocus 2 musical number – set during a Sanderson Sisters-themed costume contest, a meta nod to the enduring popularity of these characters – was captured in a day. As they performed the cover, Midler, Parker and Najimy repeated their theatrics onstage — swinging skirts, wide-eyed eyes, flashy gestures — and, thanks to the call-and-response chants from the first film, draw a crowd of Halloween festival-goers into a coordinated one Flash mob.” “It was freezing in Newport [R.I.,] that night, but the witches were so dialed in and just kept going,” Fletcher says of the shoot. “When they were done, I stood on stage with a microphone and through the motions, I spoke to the audience, ‘Jump! stare! Go to the right! Go to the left!'”

Time will tell if the cover of the sequel “One Way or Another” — as well as a witchy cover of Elton John’s 1974 hit “The B— Is Back,” also rewritten by Shaiman and Midler and co-produced by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic – becomes Halloween canon like “I Put a Spell on You”. And whether or not the long-rumored stage adaptation is ever made, there is already a musical idea for a potential third part, especially given the ending of the second film.

“There was hope that there would be a third song [in this movie], and Bette had said, ‘They’re talking about how we’d be in Hell,'” says Shaiman, who then suggested “Hot Hot Hot,” Arrow’s calypso track covered by Buster Poindexter in 1987. “That would be it so much fun, but it didn’t happen. So this could be the third Hocus Pocus.

“Will it be another 30 years?” he asks, laughing. “Then we are indeed corpses, and we must all rise from the grave.”

“Hocus Pocus 2”

Where: Disney+

When: Anytime, starting Friday

Valuation: PG (for action, macabre/salacious humor and some language)

Duration: 1 hour, 47 minutes Inside the ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Blondie song performance

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