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Arts & Entertainment

Theater Review: Hansel & Gretel

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 1

By Ben Miles

First published as a fairytale in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, “Hansel and Gretel” is a story taken from German folklore. And in spite of the two cherubic youngsters, for whom the story is named, and regardless of cottages built of gingerbread and cakes, the tale is – like so many other children’s narratives of the day – not only a parable first recorded by the Brothers Grimm; it is also a quite grim parable.

Not to worry, however, in Storybook Theatre’s musical staging of “Hansel and Gretel,” by Lloyd J. Schwartz (book) and Hope and Laurence Juber (music and lyrics), the fable – aimed at children, ages 3 to 9-years-old – is rendered innocuous. Instead of a wicked witch wishing to fatten Hansel and Gretel for her own dinning pleasures (as was the case in the original fairytale), in this hour-long depiction, the witch (veteran performer Kathy Garrick is a harmless hoot here) merely wants to fatten the kids so that they become obese and lazy, allowing her, the witch, to take over the show. She even wants to change the tale’s title from “Hansel and Gretel” to “The Wonderful World of Witches.”

Nevertheless, this two-hundred year-old yarn still resonates today. After all, Hansel and Gretel runaway from their home because their woodcutter father (a vibrant Luckas Bailey standing in for Anthony Gruppuso) is now among the long-term unemployed. Plagued with anxiety, the children flee their single father’s abode in search of nourishment and to relive him of the burden of their care.

Amidst wholesome warnings to the audience about the dangers of running away from home – underscoring that “Hansel and Gretel” is only a show, not a design for living or a plan of escape – and with five delightfully original song and dance routines, “Hansel and Gretel” is sixty minutes well spent.

Hansel is played with ebullient commitment by Joey Jennings, whose long-legged dance routines and comedic countenance infuse him with a corny charisma, allowing his personal charm and ample talent to carry this performance with no visible strain, only effective and fun-loving characterization.

Gretel is fully embodied by the talented Caitlin Gallogly. Her bright-eyed portrayal of Gretel is contemporary in its sensibilities, but timeless in terms of its sheer entertainment power. Gallogy’s part in the number, “We Are Leaving Home” is the very definition of cuteness. Gallogy exudes warmth and possesses a tender beauty that is a pleasure to witness.

Birdy is a character cleverly added to the proceedings. She provides exposition as well as “bird-brained” expressionisms and is played with devotion by the yellow-suited Barbara Mallory. Mallory’s involvement includes the song and dance routine “Birds Fly Better in Flocks,” and it is a pleasure to see her gentle performance grace this small stage (Mallory is also the show’s producer).

Effectively directed and choreographed by Elliot Kevin Schwartz, “Hansel and Gretel” is a treat for children and their adult companions. Fortunately the show continues through March 2, and you don’t have to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to find it. GPS will get you there.

Storybook Theatre’s “Hansel and Gretel “ continues at Theatre West, located at 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Los Angeles, through March 2. Performances are Saturdays at 1 p.m. The show is also available for school or organizational fieldtrips. Plus, a touring show for schools and other groups may be booked by calling (818) 761-2203. For reservations and further information, visit