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photographs by Barry Wisdom /
(Image by: Barry Wisdom) Go ahead and Google “Hansel and Gretel,” and nearly 200,000 results will pop up – results that feature such headlines as: “a tale of childhood terror”; “maternal cannibalism”; “gruesome fairy tales”; and “a tale dark and Grimm.”
Nothing like a soothing, happy-go-lucky story before bedtime.
Happily, in adapting Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s 1812 classic about a runaway brother and sister and their wicked encounter with a wand-wielding witch, B Street Theatre Associate Producer-Resident Playwright Jerry R. Montoya (and young son Malachi) have given the two-dimensional story a hilarious and heartfelt makeover.
In replacing the Grimms’ original series of nightmare-inducing unfortunate events, the Montoyas – who were credited at April 28’s opening with being the first father-son duo to author a B Street world premiere – have used a no-tears Family Series formula (suitable for children 5 and older) full of playful, pop culture-infused patter and manic physical comedy.
Also featuring eight sweet-and-silly songs by Noah Agruss, and a gaggle of new LOL characters (including a pair of puppets created by Christopher Cook), “Hansel & Gretel’s” youthful protagonists (Brandon A. McCall and Brittni Barger) do not end up backstroking in a witch’s Crock-Pot, but still manage to find themselves in plenty of hot water.
As witch Daisy (the B Street’s king of drag, Rick Kleber) sings to her pet cat Pookins (manipulated by the talented and versatile John Lamb) in “I Don’t Want to Be a Witch”: “I’m a witch, I have no friends, these legs are very hairy; this wart, especially scary.”
Her loneliness and isolation has prompted Daisy to send more than 300 letters to her coven asking to be released from her otherworldly obligations.
She thinks she’s finally won her freedom when the coven’s legal representative, goblin G.G. Graffle (the pitch-perfect Amy Kelly), comes knocking on her Black Forest door.
It’s bad news for Daisy, however, leaving her with one other option. She can cook up a potion that will make her human, but a key ingredient is missing from her pantry shelves: 400 pounds of children.
No fan of her own indentured servitude to the witches’ council, Graffle requests that Daisy double her newt-flavored recipe so she may join the human race as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no two-for-one coupon day at the local food co-op, so Daisy and Graffle conjure a plan to obtain the potion’s key ingredient by "recruiting" Hansel and Gretel.
(Image by: Barry Wisdom)
Meanwhile, Hansel and Gretel find their dog Fritzi’s secret stash of household items, including their late mother’s favorite shoes, a discovery that evokes sadness in Gretel (“Mamma Sang Sweetly”) and the siblings’ father (David Pierini), who reminds his children that it’s OK to miss their mom and that they still have each other (“Father’s Reprise”).
Realizing the only way to secure her secret ingredients is to get the children’s protectors out of the way, Daisy casts a spell, marries the delusional dad (who soulfully growls, “Whatever my Daisy wants, is what my Daisy is gonna get!”) and goes to work in fattening up the kids (“Skin ‘n Bones”).
Will the children escape the clutches of Daisy? Will Graffle find freedom from the dark side and get those eyebrows waxed? Will Daisy stop talking in positively inane, bumper-sticker speak (“Let’s fix the problem, not the blame.”)?
More than likely. This is, after all, a Family Series production and not a B3 offering.
What’s amazing about this new take on “H&G” is how affecting it proves to be even with all the schtick and shenanigans flying at the audience like a squadron of Quidditch chasers.
The cast’s singing voices – especially Kleber and Barger – go a long way in selling the emotion of the moment. It makes one wish an original cast recording of Agruss’ score was available on iTunes.
As Gretel, Barger shows off a sweet, sincere vocal prowess that has you lost in the moment with no desire for a breadcrumb-lined escape route.
Kleber not only has a grand, operatic singing voice, but he skillfully changes tone/inflection and facial expression from moment to moment, evoking laughter at will. He’s no witch, but he is a supreme wizard of the wacky.
Under Sarah Zemach’s smooth direction, Kelly, too, chews Catherine Frye’s magically warped scenery. It’s hard not to take in Graffle’s officious, barrister-flavored manner and not smile.
The musical’s human characters have less room to maneuver, but when they get the opportunity, McCall, Barger and Pierini make the most of their respective comedic skills.
In an attempt to woo the witch’s cat, Pookins, to her, Barger’s Gretel offers an over-the-top impression of Kleber’s Daisy that’s just gut-busting funny.
Pierini gets his moments as well, such as when Hansel and Gretel’s father recalls the fateful day when his wife had a run-in with a bear, or when he can’t keep his hands off of Daisy during his time under her enchantment.
Speaking of enchanted, Nancy Pipkin's costumes are freakin' fantastical as is the make-up design. Kelly's goblin look is especially ghoulish.
Everyone involved just makes magic happen.
A delight for children and adults alike, “Hansel & Gretel” continues through June 3, 2012.
JUST THE FACTS
What: The B Street Theatre Family Series production of "Hansel & Gretel," adapted by Jerry R. Montoya and Malachi Montoya (based on the story by the Brothers Grimm), with music and lyrics by Noah Agruss
Where: The B Street Theatre B3 Stage, 2727 B St., Sacramento, Calif.
When: Previews at 1 p.m. April 28; opens at 4 p.m. April 28; plays through June 3 with performances at 1 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Who: Adapted by Jerry R. Montoya and Malachi Montoya; music and lyrics by Noah Agruss; directed by Sarah Zemach; puppet design by Christopher Cook; set design by Catherine Frye; lighting design by Ron Madonia; costume design by Nancy Pipkin; stage management by Lynnae Vana; and featuring Rick Kleber (Daisy the Witch), Amy Kelly (G.G. Graffle the Goblin), Brittni Barger (Gretel), Brandon McCall (Hansel), David Pierini (Father), John Lamb (puppet operator)
How Much: $18 to $27 ($12-$15 preview tickets)
Running Time: 90 minutes (including intermission)
More Info/Tickets: www.bstreettheatre.org; (916) 443-5300