|Sasha Cooke and Ashley Emerson. Photo by Philip Newton|
The musical performances were wonderful. Sasha Cooke as Hansel was especially arresting vocally--her delivery was rich and profound--a real pleasure to hear. Ashley Emerson joined as Gretel, and between the two they were extremely convincing as children--at times playful, bratty, unreasonably frenetic, strangely calm. There was no 'buy-in' to them as children--it simply felt natural. Marcy Stonikas as Gertrude imparted a sense of verismo as to the grinding effect of poverty--blinding anger and crushing weight were evident in her portrayal, as was ecstatic joy at the bounty of food that Peter brings home. Mark Walters as Peter was excellent as well--his rolling, easy baritone formed the foundation of the effable father, and yet when he began singing about stories of the witch, he brought out the most in Humperdinck's score, reveling in the sense of creeping menace--infectious, inviting somehow.
|Marcy Stonikas. Photo by Jacob Lucas|
John Easterlin as The Witch did a fine job within the confines of the production. His cackle was baudy and grating, and he warmed into the humor of the role as the final act moved on, and as the action moved toward its conclusion he did look disturbing--bald and frowzy and uncomfortable to look at. But somehow it never felt as if the children were really in peril--the candy house was imaginative, looking as though it were made of shelves of goodies from a box store with every sweet and soda imaginable. But it was confusing as to where the oven was--difficult to figure out why the witch kept climbing to the top of the house, and all the action happened outside of the house, which was really just a large object on stage, so it was only just before the witch was pushed into the oven that it became apparent where it was.
The final set, while eye-catching, was confusing in terms of the action, and the the witch was portrayed as nonsensical and slapstick without enough believable predatory intent. That coupled with the sense that the children in the finale were essentially not scared (or not scared enough) of the witch led to the let-up on the promise of a dark ending--and make no mistake, a child forced into burning alive an evil witch in order to avoid being cannibalized is a dark ending--yet somehow by the end it just didn't feel that way.