‘Rapunzel’ at Imagination Stage by Julia L. Exline

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Imagination Stage presents Rapunzel, a musical fairytale adventure, with Book and Lyrics by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, and Music by Michael Skloff. Director Kathryn Chase Bryer gives a unique spin on the beloved story through the use of music, dance, and subtle plot tweaks while also celebrating its true spirit, striking a favorable balance between both classic and modern influences.

The Witch (Gillian Shelly) celebrates Rapunzel's (Felicia Curry) birthday in 'Rapunzel.' Photo by Scott Suchman.

Scenic Designer Milagros Ponce de Leon uses warm earth tones to transform the stage into a wild forest, showing an ivy-covered tower encircled by thick, gnarled trees. Tiny rows of lit-up cottages sit on the small steps that lead up to the stage, creating the image of a distant village. The tower has a whimsical quality, with a large, keyhole-shaped window and spots of exposed brick. The tower also revolves throughout the show to reveal a cozy interior. Lighting Designer Zac Gilbert uses dappled light to create the effect of sunlight peeping through tree limbs, and paired with sound effects by Christopher Baine, the overall effect is impressive and engaging.

Prince Brian (Jonathan Atkinson) uses Rapunzel's (Felicia Curry) hair as a ladder. Photo by Scott Suchman.

As impressive as the grand set (or, dare-I-say, even more so), are the fanciful costumes by Frank Labovitz. Mixing vivid, extreme designs with pieces from simpler times, Labovitz manages to represent both modern and classical influences. The prince wears a gold, studded leather jacket that has an ultramodern, almost punky look to it, while Rapunzel’s traditional corset sits atop a mountain of ruffles that make up her vibrant skirt. Elaborate wigs are plentiful, from Rapunzel’s expected braid (which has bright flowers poking through it along every few inches) to a neon green hairdo for the witch that I can only describe as a birds nest (which is fitting, seeing how she wears a hat with crows perched upon it.)

Gillian Shelly is electric as the Witch, who cons Rapunzel (multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee Felicia Curry) out of her humble parent’s arms and raises her as her own in an isolated tower. While Rapunzel is for the most part a content, lively girl, she wishes to see the outside world, and argues with her mother, who refuses to let her explore life outside of the tower. Rapunzel catches the attention of a wandering Prince while she sings about being trapped in the tower. Prince Brian (a royally-good performance by Jonathan Atkinson) has woes of his own -overlooked by his family, he desperately wants to be a hero, and is thrilled to find his chance for a heroic feat in the shape of a maiden in distress. They become fast friends, and Prince Brian visits with Rapunzel while his attendant, Simon (a charming and funny Michael John Casey, who takes on multiple smaller roles as well) distracts the Witch. However, the enraged Witch finally discovers them, and banishes them into the woods, where they are sprung into a wild adventure, full of determination, lessons, and loyalty. A particularly nice scene shows the frightened couple trekking through a haunted forest, comforting each other with a song called, “Keep Going.” Together, they must find their ‘Happily Ever After.’

The cast of 'Rapunzel' at Imagination Stage (L to R: Jonathan Atkinson (Prince Brian), Felicia Curry (Rapunzel) - above - Gillian Shelly (The Witch), and Michael John Casey (Simon). Photo by Scott Suchman.

Fun choreography by Ilona Kessell has the characters weaving amongst each other, and the acting and singing is fully entertaining. Curry is exceptional as a naïve Rapunzel (at one point, she believes that a cow is a terrifying monster) who turns out to be a quick learner who is filled with bravery and resolve. Sorry to disappoint the Prince, but this sharp young lady is no wilting flower. Sometimes a venue tries too hard to put a unique spin on a classic and, as a result, leaves it a weak shadow of its former self, but not this production. There are just enough changes to give it a quirky uniqueness, but it also maintains the comfort of the original tale.

Imagination Stage’s production of Rapunzel is very enjoyable, and I know you and your children will love it too! Let your hair down and run and buy tickets!

Running Time: 75 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.

Rapunzel runs through May 20l, 2012 at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 280-1660, or order them online.