Warning for little thrill-seekers: "A Hansel and Gretel Halloween," the Santa Monica Playhouse's new musical comedy for young children, isn't scary. A bit loud on occasion, and quite wordy, but it tells a very different tale than the familiar witchy one and aims for smiles, not shivers.
Written by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, with music and lyrics by Rudie and M. Wrather, this Hansel (Graham Silbert) and Gretel (Juliet Berman) are chafing under their overprotective mother's rules about no trick-or-treating. So they go into the woods to look for treats anyway, with their sympathetic dad's connivance.
Why does Mom (Maria Santucci) have a sort of verbal twitch, so that she makes comical noises whenever she hears the words "trick or treat" and "Halloween"? We find out when she and Dad (John Waroff)--go into the woods to search for their offspring.
Meanwhile, Hansel and Gretel find more treats than they want, when a strange old woman, Frau Zuckerhut (Celeste Akiki), tries to sweeten up their restless natures with a steady diet of sugary meals: "Your tongues are sharp, your words are bitter--I think you need another fritter."
Oh, yes, the entire play--dialogue and songs--is in rhyme. It doesn't wear well. Rudie and DeCarlo's children's shows are always chock-full of their signature Gilbert & Sullivan-esque rhymes, and many are quite clever. There's cleverness here, too, at times, but elsewhere the rhymes are forced: "When you view me, do not look through me"; "I said apologize, not monologize."
Often, too, the verbiage is so thick and rapidly delivered that the actors appear to be laboring to get the words out. (One musical number has unintended resonance. "Too much of a good thing, is not such a good thing," sung after Hansel and Gretel have had more than their fill of sweets, lists excessive verbiage and wordy cleverness as examples.)
Both Silbert and Berman are game and word-perfect, but speed and volume often take precedence over expressiveness. Akiki, on the other hand, fades out and loses momentum. Santucci was the only cast member on Sunday (most roles are double-cast) who was able to enhance the fast-paced dialogue with a real sense of fun, embellishing her confident, emphatic comic performance with a fine-tuned, droll German accent.
The uncredited set design is very simple, with tall trees that become lollipops when turned around. Ashley Hayes' multicolored, folk-inspired costumes are especially nice; Frau Zuckerhut's candy- and cake-laden hat is a whimsical touch.
"A Hansel & Gretel Halloween," Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica, Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30 and 3 p.m. Ends Jan. 28. $8.50. (310) 394-9779, Ext. 2.
Atlantic Crossing: Visiting from England, the Playbox Theatre is presenting two different shows today that the company created especially for its appearance at Santa Monica Playhouse's Other Space theater.
Tonight, for older kids and adults, the teenage members of the Playbox Professional Programme are putting on a production of Shakespeare's comedy of gender-bending disguise and romance, "Twelfth Night," directed by Stewart McGill, Playbox's artistic director.
Earlier in the day, Playbox's JINKS division, which specializes in shows for the under-age-10 set, will serve up chills and comedy in "Heckedy Peg," the tale of a witch who captures seven children, then forces their mother to solve riddles to win their freedom. Using music, rhyme and puppetry, it goes back a long way: Mary King, Playbox's founding and executive director, adapted it from a 16th century children's story and game.
The two visiting productions are part of a longstanding exchange program of works between Playbox and the Santa Monica Playhouse.
"Playbox Theatre," Santa Monica Playhouse's Other Space, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. "Twelfth Night," today, 7 p.m. "Heckedy Peg," today, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. $8.50. (310) 394-9779, Ext. 2.
Fairy Tales Can Come True: According to high-profile British fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, at least. He wrote the bestselling "Faeries" and designed such films as "The Dark Crystal." He has said that he doesn't make up his creations, he just paints what he sees. The internationally popular creator of the fantastic will help celebrate Halloween, along with his wife--"Star Wars" sculptor and designer Wendy Froud--on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Every Picture Tells a Story's Halloween bash.
"Halloween With Brian Froud," Every Picture Tells a Story, 7525 Beverly Blvd., Friday, 6 to 9 p.m. Free. (323) 932-6070.
Plan Ahead: The latest series of Children's Concerts at McCabe's (McCabe's Guitar Shop) includes "My Best Friend Is a Salamander" singer and songwriter Peter Himmelman (Nov. 5), Chicago children's recording artist Justin Roberts (Nov. 19) and children's musician and educator Jacki Breger's family sing-along (Dec. 10). All shows are at 11 a.m.
Children's Concerts at McCabe's, McCabe's Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, $3 to $6. (310) 828-4497.