Evil stepmothers. Abandoned children. Eating lots of sugary sweets and killing witches with glowing red eyes.
Once upon a time in a land far away, when the Brothers Grimm were cranking out nightmarish fairy tales, these may have been proper subjects for children's stories. But most parents these days look for gentler fare.
And so the wicked witch becomes a kindly uncle, the dark forest is a painted scene and the real struggle is for a family to get along in the Theatreworks/USA production of "Hansel & Gretel," which arrives today from New York for two performances at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.
A musical adaptation of the original tale, this "Hansel & Gretel" takes place in the 1897 Austrian parlor of the Van Halburg family, which is preparing to put on a play.
With the music of Engelbert Humperdinck and lyrics by Jane Smulyan, this is a story of a family working together to entertain themselves in the days before television.
They have constructed scenery, costumes, props and puppets. They have invited Uncle Rudy, a famous pastry chef from Vienna, to play the gingerbread-house witch. And, of course, they have altered the story a little "because some of the parts were just too horrible--like the part about the awful parents leaving their children in the woods," Frau Halburg said.
The dramatic tension in this version is not whether the evil stepmother will leave the poor children to die, or whether the red-eyed witch will eat poor Hansel, but whether the Van Halburgs can stop bickering long enough to complete the play. Of course, there is a happy ending.
"Everybody wants to see fairy tales around the holidays," said Lilia Rockey, chairman of the La Mirada Junior Programs. "We haven't seen this play yet, but we're very happy to have Theatreworks come back. They are an excellent company."
A New York production company with its home in the Promenade Theatre, Theatreworks puts many of its plays on tour and has presented more than 27,000 performances in 49 states since the first production in 1961 of "Young Abe Lincoln." In the spring of 1991, they brought "Footprints on the Moon" to the 1,300-seat La Mirada Theatre.
Performances of "Hansel & Gretel" will be staged at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. today at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. Information or tickets: (714) 994-6150.