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'Hansel, Gretel' Says No to Drugs

February 17, 1989|LYNNE HEFFLEY

The show must go on. Five minutes into a Saturday matinee performance of the Venture Theatre's children's musical, it was clear something was amiss. There were puzzling silences and the dialogue had an ad-libbed quality. Director Gye di Capua stopped the show; the taped music wasn't working. The cast retired backstage for a fresh start.

The audience was sympathetic; these things happen. They applauded. They waited. And waited. The music started. It stopped. Muffled exclamations were heard. In the audience, the murmurs were growing. Finally, a cast member shouted from offstage, "A cappella! A cappella!"

Di Capua laughed, the audience laughed, and "Hansel and Gretel Say Nope to Dope, The Musical" was enthusiastically under way--a cappella. Ten minutes later, the sound track kicked in.

The shaky start was representative of the play: good-natured but problematic.

Di Capua, who feels that children are getting anti-drug education too late, has aimed his message musical at the 4-to-11 set. In his version of the familiar fairy tale, the only perils Hansel and Gretel face in the woods are drug pushers. Mr. Goody (S. Frank Stringham) sells pills, Mr. Joint (Cody Murphy) sells marijuana and the witch (Mairi Fern Hovis) is pushing cocaine.

It's a worthy idea, but Di Capua's message is forced because his mix of the contemporary and the classic is too awkward to accommodate it.

Hansel and Gretel's father and stepmother (Murphy and Hovis again) abandon them in the deep forest, but here that has no meaning--except to allow them to be tested in their ability to say no to drugs. Even their dog (humorously played by Al Lorenzo), when "magically" given the opportunity to sing about a dog's life, uses it as an anti-drug commercial.

There are laughs, a few bouncy songs, a competent professional adult cast and two likable child actors. The romp of an ending is a kid-pleasing treat. As a matter of fact, there's a pleasant little show lurking here that a contemporary setting would help. Put Hansel and Gretel in the big city, and the encounters would make sense.

At 3435 W. Magnolia Ave. in Burbank, Saturdays at 2 p.m., indefinitely. Free. (213) 965-9455.

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