The thought of taking the kids to see "Little Red Riding Hood" may be enough to make a strong parent falter, but the Santa Monica Playhouse has given the oh-so-familiar tale an unexpected twist.
Written and directed by Evelyn Rudie, this musical version of the fairy-tale classic has been adapted from a German folk legend of the 1600s, "Rotkappchen."
The villain here is not a lupine fiend with murderous intent. (Fairy tales can be grim indeed.) Instead, meet the Baron Wolfgang von Wolfgang (James Cooper), whose reputation with the ladies has earned him the sobriquet, "Wolf of the Black Forest."
The Baron insists he has been misunderstood--"I smiled at a pretty peasant girl once and wicked rumors spread"--though he strokes his mustache with suspicious complacency.
Little Red (Cydne Moore) has never met the Baron and gives him the benefit of the doubt, but her distraught mother (Cheryl Moffatt, who also plays Grandmama) harbors a dark secret: Little Red is to marry the Baron at sunset.
A sly sense of humor prevails throughout. Timothy Chadwick's set features a charming rose-covered white cottage and trees full of Disney-style woodland creatures, but the sweetness and light are slightly askew. When Little Red sings, "Grandmama said today my special dreams will come true," an irreverent chorus of squirrels scoffs, "nuts, nuts, nuts to you."
Mama's suitor Siegfried (John Waroff) tosses off bad puns with relish--"I knew there was a catch in the rye" and "don't keep me in suspenders," rolling his eyes at the audience, daring censure.
Although some of the dialogue passes over their heads and longish musical moments lead to restless stirrings, very young children in the audience seem to have no trouble appreciating the Baron's self-parodying posturings and the nonsensical goings-on.
The best and the worst of Rudie's production are the words. Rudie loves words--Mama answers Siegfried's proposal with "I blushingly consent to your connubial intentions" and the Baron begs forgiveness for "waxing loquacious"--but her rapid-fire Gilbert & Sullivan-type lyrics at times fall victim to uninspired music, losing emphasis and thereby intelligibility.
An unfortunate flaw in an otherwise loving production.
Still, Chadwick's humorous set, the colorful folk costumes designed by Moffatt and Ashley Hayes, Cooper's lighting design (contributing to one of the show's funniest moments), Rudie's best lines and a cast of comic professionals make "Little Red Riding Hood" entertainingly different fairy-tale fare.
And yes, they do all live happily ever after.