Staged by Broadway on Tour under the direction of Dan Halkyard, "Hansel and Gretel"--the classic Brothers Grimm tale of two siblings and their tangle with one of the hungriest witches this side of a Weight Watchers meeting--is the theatrical equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You wouldn't serve it to your highbrow friends, but for kids ages 4 and up, it's sweet, simple and satisfying.
Simple is the operative word here. "Hansel and Gretel" is being presented Saturday and Sunday at the Dance, Etc. Creative Arts Center in Placentia--a modest studio tucked between a mini-mall insurance office and hair salon. Neil Caplin's set pieces are small and serviceable, but the in-the-round staging and the minimal stage crew, caused a few lags during a recent performance, as the cast pushed and tugged the pieces into position, dodging power cords and stray props. Laurie Holden's costumes are homey and cute, and the occasional thunder and lightning sound effects add a menacing touch.
Talent levels vary among the mostly school-aged cast, with the strongest performances coming from teen-agers Jannene Lowry and Nathan Slezak as Mother and Father. Lowry, a veteran of many community theater shows, has an especially warm, even singing voice that's shown to its best advantage in the lullaby "Evening Prayer." Slezak is a sterling dad, and has a pleasant tenor to boot.
Matt Slezak (Nathan's brother), 11, and Autumn Dahlatrom, 10, are Hansel and Gretel. Both do an admirable job with their speaking parts, but their vocal numbers, especially the quieter duets, could use significantly more punch. Geneva Woznicki, as the gentle Sand Princess, makes the most of her short scene, swishing and swooning across the stage in a blur of pastel chiffon.
The Gingerbread Lady, a.k.a. the witch, is played by Cheryl Lowry (Jannene's mother), the sole adult in the cast. Lowry plays it up big, with peals of devilish laughter and plenty of exaggerated expressions, which sometimes overshadowed the younger members of the cast but elicited lots of giggles and wide-eyed stares from last Sunday's audience. (Note: Because of a prior commitment by Lowry, the Gingerbread Lady will become the Gingerbread Man at Sunday's performance, when director Halkyard takes over the role.)
Founded by Halkyard in 1988, Broadway on Tour is a training and performance company for Orange County children ages 7 to 17. The group, which has performed at Knott's Berry Farm, Yorba Linda's Forum Theatre and the Nixon Library, began a regular season of children's theater performances at the small studio with the sponsorship of local businesses and residents.
Participation in a Broadway on Tour show is free and open to any child, and parents are encouraged to take part, whether it is building scenery or selling tickets at the door. Community outreach efforts have included a free performance of "Cinderella" for homeless families last May. Upcoming shows include "Little Red Riding Hood" (July 20 through Sept. 1) and "The Pied Piper of Hamlin" (Sept. 7 through Oct. 27.)
What: Broadway on Tour presents "Hansel and Gretel."
When: Saturday, July 13, and Sunday, July 14, at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Dance, Etc. Creative Arts Center, 1215 E. Imperial Highway in Placentia.
Whereabouts: Orange (57) Freeway to the Imperial Highway exit.
Wherewithal: All tickets are $5.
Where to call: (714) 491-2811.