by Hugh Hunter
For their third Annual Family Holiday Classic, Quintessence is now running “Hansel and Gretel”. As much as I enjoyed the first two shows, I liked “Hansel” even more. Throbbing with energy, it is a full-blown and original musical by Chestnut Hill’s David Cope and Mt. Airy’s Alexander Burns that is good enough to be on Broadway.
Director Burns sets the classic tale in a post-industrial city where the father cannot find work. The impoverished parents shamefully abandon 10-year-old Hansel and Gretel in a forest. As you follow their adventures, you get to enjoy other Grimm tales because Gretel urges everyone she meets to “tell me a story.”
The veteran cast seizes the chance to release their inner child. Anita Holland has a field day playing a flounder, a cat and a witch. Bob Stineman is a marvelous duck. Sean Bradley and Clare O’Malley are wide-eyed and innocent as the two children. Even Alan Brincks and Faith Fossett as mother and father have their moments of frolic.
Composer David Cope delivers a complete score of 12 original songs. Working in collaboration with director/writer Burns, he created both the lyrics and music that underscore the drama. And as with all musicals there are strong dance elements (choreography Kaki Burns, Alexander Burns) and elaborate dress by costume designers Jane Casanave and Chris Lione.
The fairy tale genre always strives to impart important ideas to children. Burns argues that three issues are prominent in the Grimm tales: the dangers of credulity and greed and the need for charity. We see credulity in “The Cat and Mouse in Partnership.” “Hansel and Gretel” ends when the children overcome greed and win back the love of their repentant parents.
“The Fisherman and His Wife,” “The Willful Child” and “The Star Money” stories are woven into the play. “The Godfather” is an allegory that features the personification of death, much like the morality play “Everyman.” It is a perfect prelude for the ending of the “Hansel” story, which celebrates the redemptive value of charity.
“Hansel and Gretel” is an immensely original and entertaining adaptation. It is a traditional “journey” tale like “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Wizard of Oz,” where children learn and have many adventures as they struggle to find their way back home.
The show is appropriate for even very young children because the tales are so well staged and easy to follow. A large luminescent screen shows the scene changes, with props introduced through a center door. Since the stage is turned to face the theater entrance, you even have the experience of going “behind the scenes” on your way out!
What a magical show “Hansel” must be for kids! It has always surprised me that there are so few family entertainments of worth at this time of the year. I found myself lapsing into a nostalgic mood, wishing Quintessence Theatre had been around when my kids were little.
Quintessence Theatre is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. “Hansel and Gretel” will run through Jan 3. Reservations at 215-987-4450 or www.quintessencetheatre.org.