Encore Stage & Studio presents Hansel & Gretel, an adapted version of the classic story by The Brothers Grimm, with original music composed by Matthew Heap. Vera Morris’ gentler revision of this story makes room for a pair of loving parents (no evil stepmother here) and a larger variety of characters. This production is perfectly suited for Encore, who are well-known for their large casts and crews made up of eager youths and claimed in their slogan “Theatre by kids, for kids!” Susan Alison Keady solidly directs this expansive troupe, resulting in a fun evening of family-friendly entertainment.
Technical Director and Set Designer/Builder Kristen Jepperson uses a variety of large settings to depict different sceneries, the main being the Black Forest, a popular location used in medieval German folklore. Large painted trees and dim lighting designed by Master Electrician Gray Hauptman lend the scenery a hushed, magical air, while Heap’s mystical compositions and forest sound effects complete the atmosphere. The much-anticipated gingerbread house is well done, complete with peppermint columns and a roof made of gumdrops, though my favorite set piece has to be the large oven that billowed real smoke throughout the show. The time period and location of the production is most apparent in costumes by Debra Leonard – lederhosen hints at German roots, while the belted tunics and headpieces are right out of the medieval era.
Cautious, rule-abiding Gretel (Lynn Loftus) reprimands her mischievous brother Hansel (Henry Hubbard), who has drank the milk meant for their evening pudding while going about their chores. Hansel begs his sister to lighten up, and pulls her into a dance…until their Mother (Izabella Porter) comes home to find an empty milk jug and chores that have been cast aside. Angry, she sends them deep into the forest to collect berries, unaware that she is sending them on a dangerous journey filled with forest creatures, hobgoblins, and a hungry witch! When then Gingerbread Witch (Jessica Layton) finally has the siblings in her clutches, they must rely on their wits and bravery to secure an escape.
However, while the original story focuses on just Hansel and Gretel, this adaptation gives them loads of helpful (as well as some unhelpful) characters. Personified forces such as the Dew Princess (Erin Loftus), the Sandman (Samuel Kopylev), and the trio of Echos (Zoe Korejwo, Jeffrey Pippins, and Sarah Bolles) help the siblings navigate their surroundings, while Hobgoblins Frick, Frack, and Bob (Grace Gent, Holly Durham, and Annie Wood, who received loads of laughs from the audience) use trickery and schemes at the command of the witch. The cast is a large one, consisting of over thirty young actors! While it must be understood that these are children who are just beginning to learn and hone their acting skills (perfect performances should not be expected), their overall quality of work is impressive, and I highly encourage young children watching their peers perform onstage.
Standout performances are those of Nicholas Boone, Kelly McArdle, and Miranda Tonsetic as the Bandersnatch family, a trio of greedy trolls who demand payment from whomever passes over their bridge. They light up the stage with their humorous energy, and Miranda, while amongst the youngest of the performers, has earned herself perhaps the most memorable performance. Katie Nelson also steals a scene as an Angel who plays a beautiful piece on the harp. There is some interesting movement in this production as well, shown in the modern dance movements of the goblins and the graceful, ballet-style movement of the Dew Princess, amongst others.
Encore Stage & Studio’s production of Hansel & Gretel is a fun option for everyone in the family. Support young, thriving actors…and watch them inspire your own children!
Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Hansel and Gretel plays through November 15 2015 at Encore Stage & Studio performing at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154, or purchase them online.