By Heidi Sutton
When the Brothers Grimm published their Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, they probably had no idea that stories such as the cautionary Hansel and Gretel, would have such staying power. While Disney hasn’t gotten its hold on it yet, the folk tale has held its own over the years, most famously through opera (by composer Engelbert Humperdinck), and with recent revivals on the big screen (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the even darker Gretel & Hansel).
Now Theatre Three takes us back into the forest for a light-hearted and funny original retelling of Hansel and Gretel with a big surprise at the end that’s sure to satisfy every child’s sweet tooth.
Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas Quattrock, with a brand new score by Quattrock, it follows Hansel and Gretel who are living with their father, a woodcutter, and detached stepmother. The family is starving and the stepmother blames the children. She gives her husband an ultimatum: “Either dump them in the forest or dump them in the forest!” The children overhear and gather white rocks to guide them back home. When her plan fails, the stepmother takes the reins and leads them back into the forest. This time Hansel leaves a trail of breadcrumbs (he eats the rocks by mistake) and the children become lost.
As Gretel goes to find a path home, Hansel is kidnapped by Scrimshaw and Harvis, henchmen working for a child-eating witch who lives in a candy house. The witch promptly gets to work fattening Hansel up with cake, cookies and donuts. When Gretel trys to rescue him, the witch puts her to work cooking and cleaning. When the witch gets too close to the oven, Gretel has a decision to make. Will she push her in or find another way to get out of this mess?
Jeffrey Sanzel directs a brilliant adult cast of six in this delightful retelling of the beloved story. While the story of Hansel and Gretel isn’t all lollipops and gumdrops — after all, there is a wicked witch who preys on children — there are no scary moments in the show and everyone learns a lesson about the importance of family. Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast in the dual role of stepmother and witch and delivers her lines softly, albeit sarcastically (“These kids are monsters!”), and never raises her voice. Her opening solo, “Stepmother’s Lament,” is hilarious.
Michelle LaBozzetta as Gretel and Eric J. Hughes as Hansel give standout performances. LaBozzetta’s character is strong-willed, confident and brave while Hughes plays a carefree, clueless and sweet little brother. Their duets, “Stones Along the Way” and “Hansel’s Dinner” are perfectly executed. Steven Uihlein in the unpopular role of the father who goes along with his wife’s plans, does a fine job, as always. His character’s guilt in his solo “Lost” and at the end of the show is palpable.
Although not part of the original story, Darren Bruce Clayton and Ryan Worrell, in the role of Scrimshaw and Harvis, entertain the audience by incorporating the Charleston, ballet and hip hop in their dance numbers, “Out of Step” and “Harvis and Scrimshaw.” What a treat!
The end result is a charming and imaginative production of Hansel and Gretel that should be added on your family’s to do list. Stay for a meet and greet with the cast in the lobby after the show.
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Hansel and Gretel on March 7, 14 and 21 at 11 a.m. and March 15 at 3 p.m. with a sensory-sensitive performance on March 8 at 11 a.m. Children’s Theater continues with The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from April 8 to 25 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from May 23 to June 6. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.