On a recent Saturday morning, my 6-year-old daughter and I were ready to see “Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat.” That is, until she told me, “I want to stay home! I don’t want to go to a show for babies!” Luckily for me, I’m not alone. It seems Chicago’s Emerald City Theatre has heard these complaints before. Their newest production starts off with the Grimm Brothers addressing her concerns: “People think fairy tales are boring. But our fairy tales are dangerous and devious.” So the fun begins and never ends in this rollicking and rocking one-hour musical.
A mixture of rock concert and theater, the cast of actors are also the show’s musicians. Together they make up the Brothers Grimm Band, and when they’re not entertaining with their acting or singing, they’re performing on stage, the father on the keyboard, the witch with the saxophone and Wilhelm Grimm on the drums. In case you didn’t already know, there are some incredibly talented performers in Chicago.
At the top of that list is Justin Roberts, the popular Grammy-nominated kids musician. Roberts understands kids. Along with his band, the Not Ready for Naptime Players, he creates children’s songs that are subversive rather than sweet. He scores big as “Hansel & Gretel”’s composer and lyricist. Songs like “Sugar is the Perfect Food” hit all the right notes with kids and adults, leaving the entire audience smiling, although for different reasons, which is exactly what makes him so talented.
Every actor is perfectly cast—from streetwise Gretel (Alissa Walker) and happy Hansel (Jack Ball) to the forest troll (Brenton Abram-Copenhaver) with his hilarious vaudeville-style comedy sketches. But the showstopper is the wickedly funny witch, played by Emerald City’s Danny Taylor. Director Ernie Nolan made sure this character wasn’t too frightening for kids. Instead, the witch is a dirndl-wearing drag queen who has the whole theater roaring with laughter during “You’ve Gotta Do It Alone,” an ode to resilience and determination.
Emerald City Theatre has done a great job dealing with adult themes in a kid-friendly way, which keeps theatergoers of all ages captivated. At one point the Grimm Brothers describe the dramatic devices they use in their fairy tales. It’s not just about handsome princes and damsels in distress, but about how life’s filled with good and bad and you have to face all of it and not run and hide. Parents appreciate the literary lesson, and kids, well, Emerald City had them at dangerous and devious! “Hansel & Gretel” is a Grimm tale with a happy ending—for the entire audience.
“Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat” will be performed at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago) through Jan. 4, 2015. Tickets range from $16-30.