It hasn’t been 300 years, but scream queens Daphne Ferraro, Chi Chi Lalique and Kathryn Nevets have been bewitching audiences for decades. The trio has respectively performed for 20, 27 and 28 years throughout Tampa Bay and Central Florida.
They’ve done so as Mary, Sarah and Winifred Sanderson—the witchy Sanderson Sisters from Disney’s “Hocus Pocus”—for nearly a decade of that. First brought to life on screen by iconic LGBTQ allies Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler, the 1993 classic has cast a spell on Halloween fans ever since.
Nevets’ fascination with the film came first, at least on the stage; a fitting fact since she plays the eldest sister. “I’ve been a Bette impersonator for 25 years now,” she says. “If you’re going to be a Bette impersonator, of course you absolutely have to do Winifred Sanderson.”
After refining her resting witch face, Nevets found herself on the cast of “Ferraro’s Fishtank” at Hamburger Mary’s in Tampa. She, Ferraro and Lalique decided to expand the production to showcase each Sanderson sister for an annual Halloween production.
“We got together at Mary’s and it just clicked,” Nevets recalls. “‘Hocus Pocus’ resonates with the LGBTQ community because magic, fairy tales and superheroes usually do. We have a tendency to root for the underdog going up against the big and powerful.”
Crafting a show around “Hocus Pocus” made perfect sense to the cast, particularly with Nevets’ longstanding impersonation. “The movie has three heavy hitters in Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler who were already such gay icons,” Ferraro explains. “Putting them together in a musical certainly wasn’t a bad idea—and if you look at them, at their costumes, they’re already in drag.”
“They’re villains but everybody loves them,” Lalique adds. “Audiences certainly love us—it’s kind of scary, because you can see a different look in their faces when they see us in character.”
“It’s not like when an audience sees you just in drag,” Ferraro elaborates. “You can really see and feel how much they love that movie and these sisters.”
The production has frequently evolved over its nine years. Originally featuring only the sisters, it was recently expanded to include additional characters from the film. “There are five numbers in the regular version that we do and then there are six in another that entails Billy the zombie,” Nevets explains. “Each year we add or fine tune something, whether it’s our hair, our costumes or something else. We always add elements.”
The trio took flight in four Tampa Bay locations in 2019, beginning with The Asylum in New Port Richey Oct. 5. Ferraro’s home bar Enigma in St. Petersburg welcomed their subsequent stop Oct. 11 and Nevets led them to Lakeland at Mason’s Live on Oct. 12. The trio’s Oct. 19 performance at Hamburger Mary’s Clearwater is the last for Halloween 2019.
“Four different cities in four different types of venues,” Lalique reflects. “People respond to our chemistry and it creates something exciting and unique. Now I understand what happens when the actor playing Mickey Mouse puts his head on at Disney World.”
“We really enjoy what we do,” Ferraro says. “When you’re having fun on stage it translates and the audience has fun with you. We’re committed to what we’re doing; the three of us are in sync and we’ve just always been that way.”
The production is approaching its tenth year because “it gives us and audiences such joy. We’re a family,” Nevets concludes. “We truly are sisters.”