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Justin Autz

By Heidi Sutton

Looking for a fun fall activity with the kids? May I recommend Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale, a musical adventure complete with “wicked witches, heroic princes, kings, magic and the longest hair in the world.” Written by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, creators of the hit TV show Friends, with music by Michael Skloff, the children’s show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend and runs through Oct. 31.

The cast of ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo from Engeman Theater

While the story has lots of modern twists and turns, it still retains much of the beloved fairy tale we all know and love. A cobbler and his wife live next door to a witch who has a beautiful garden. One day the cobbler sneaks into the garden to steal some vegetables and is caught by the witch who cons him into giving her the couple’s firstborn. She names the child Rapunzel and raises her as her own in a tower. Fast forward 16 years and Rapunzel’s only wish on her birthday is to leave the tower and see the world below. Her “mother” at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind and instead tries to bribe her with fudge, flowers, a bird and birthday cake.

Meanwhile, Prince Brian has run away from the castle. He feels that he is a failure, having reached the age of seventeen without doing one heroic deed, and vows only to return once he has slain a dragon, captured an ogre or rescued a maiden. “As a hero, I’m a zero,” he groans. When the prince comes upon Rapunzel in the tower, he hatches a plan to have his valet Simon distract the witch while he rescues the girl. What follows is a magical morning of live theater the whole family will enjoy.

Danny Meglio directs a seasoned cast of four who play multiple characters in the retelling of this hairy tale. A wonderful Joanna Sanges returns to the Engeman to reprise her role as the naive Rapunzel who has never seen a cow or a carriage but quickly learns to stand up to anyone standing in her way. Her strong-willed determination and confidence is a perfect role model for the children in the audience. 

Tasked with rescuing fair maidens, Justin Autz is terrific as the handsome Prince Brian. While he spends the first part of the show riding horses and climbing towers, Autz spends the second act trying to find his way back to the castle wearing dark glasses that are stuck to his face (the witch has cast a spell to make him blind) and tripping over Rapunzel’s long hair. 

Joanna Sanges as Rapunzel and Justin Autz as Prince Brian star in ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo from Engeman Theater

Brilliantly played by Jillian Sharpe, Gretta the witch, “with a twist of her wrist and a turn of her ring,” can be best described as a sour patch kid (first she’s sour but then she’s sweet) who sounds just like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. While she does some pretty crummy things, she is not scary and the children in the audience are not frightened. 

The multi-talented Jae Hughes plays multiple roles throughout the show including the storyteller, Simon, the king (who is always mispronouncing Rapunzel’s name), the innkeeper, and the cow and knocks each one out of the kingdom. The ability to switch roles so quickly, with different voices and demeanors, is no easy feat, but Hughes makes it seem effortless.

The script is clever and funny, with much of the dialogue in rhyme, and the songs are energetic and catchy with special mention to “Wooing a Witch,” The First Step is the Hardest” and the quartet’s “Tonight’s the Night.” The costumes, excellent sound effects and lighting tie it all together for a happily ever after.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Oct. 31. Running time is one hour with a 15 minute intermission. Boosters seats are available and costumes are encouraged. And if it’s your birthday, the cast will serenade you. (Happy Birthday Emma!)

Children’s theater continues with the theater’s annual production of Frosty from Nov. 20 to  Jan. 2 and Disney’s Frozen Jr. from Jan. 29 to Feb. 27, 2022. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.