Columbia Children’s Theatre presents a delightful summer treat with The Commedia Hansel and Gretel. Following numerous other commedia summer shows produced by CCT, Hansel and Gretel benefits from the collaborative nature of the Italian theatre tradition commedia dell’arte. Innovative director Jerry Stephenson aptly describes the entertaining characters as “beloved, rag-tag, fame-hungry players,” and audiences of all ages will enjoy their mischief.
The “Spaghetti and Meatball Players” include five commedia characters (Columbine, Pantalone, Arlequino, Punchin, and Rosetta) who take on multiple roles within the story. As Columbine, Mary Miles becomes an amusing Gretel, tap-dancing and pouting her way through the forest. Paul Lindley II’s Arlequino plays her long-suffering brother Hansel with charm and verve. The fairy tale siblings achieve effective rapport with the young audience through interaction that feels both genuine and satisfyingly silly. In the role of Punchin, Baker Morrison delivers a hilarious performance as two iconic stars of Food Network fame, while Noah Barker’s Pantalone succeeds as the humorously incompetent fairy tale father and other roles. As Rosetta, Kaitlyn Fuller does double duty as stepmother and witch; she skillfully creates distinctly memorable characters who menace Hansel and Gretel with flair. (At certain performances, alternate actors will play the following roles: George Dinsmore as Pantalone, Taylor Diveley as Arlequino, Julian Deleon as Punchin, and Frances Farrar as Rosetta.)
As audiences have come to anticipate, CCT puts forth first class production quality. Vibrant flag banners liven up the stage, which features a useful proscenium for backdrop changes in Patrick Faulds’ attractive set. Jim Litzinger’s lighting and sound design choices work beautifully to support the production, and Stevenson and Donna Harvey score a big win in the costume department with colorful creations that highlight appealing use of shape and texture. Company/stage manager Candice Fuller keeps everything on track in what must be a riotous backstage experience.
This high energy performance successfully combines popular culture and entertainment with classic fairy tale conventions. While some of the comical references will not be familiar to young children, there are plenty of jokes that make sense to the littlest audience members as the older crew snickers over references to the Kardashians, Paula Deen, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among many more. The engaging actors capitalize on the improvisational aspect of the commedia tradition as they incorporate audience responses with quick-witted confidence. As the latest installment from the Spaghetti and Meatball Players, Hansel and Gretel is a welcome addition to the clever commedia tradition at Columbia Children’s Theatre.
Performances of The Commedia Hansel & Gretel at the Columbia Children’s Theatre will run through June 19 (Saturday at 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.). Ticket prices are $10 for children three years old through adult, $8 for seniors and active duty military, and $5 for all tickets on Saturdays at 7:00 pm only. Tickets may be purchased from the box office (803-691-4548) or online at www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com.
— Melissa Swick Ellington