Lyric Theatre bewitched with Hansel and Gretel

Witches and woodland creatures took over the Don Evans Black Box Theater last weekend as Lyric Theatre brought Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel” to the College. The rendition of Humperdinck’s first professional opera, which was based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Hansel und Gretel,” debuted on Thursday, Nov. 9 and ran until Sunday, Nov. 12.

Lyric Theatre’s presentation was almost identical to the original fairy tale, which tells the tale of a poor woodcutter’s two children who get lost deep in a forest inhabited by a witch, who bakes candy by day and eats children at night. In the original story, the woodcutter’s wife convinces her husband to take the children out into the forest and abandon them. After being left to die in the forest, the children come across the witch. However, in this presentation, the children get lost in the woods after their mother, furious at their laziness and frivolity, sends them out to pick strawberries.

Plot discrepancies aside, the opera was performed expertly by the cast of Lyric Theatre. Samantha Dango (Hansel) and Christina Rivera (Gretel), senior music education majors, each brought a whimsical nature to the pair of juvenile characters. Dango’s facial expressions were dead on, ranging from absolute disgust and fear of the witch to annoyance at Gretel’s playful nature. While Dango painted a vibrant picture of Hansel’s emotions, Rivera played the part of a spry little girl to perfection. She danced and darted around the stage with a youthful energy, all while retaining her lovely soprano-style voice.

Jennifer Sengin, senior music education major, brought a pleasant madness to the character of the witch. From the moment she appeared on stage, sporting garish green face paint and a nose the size of a dill pickle, Sengin displayed a masterful stage presence. While her character was blatantly evil, the crowd could not help but cheer for Sengin as she played to a group of children in the first row, occasionally bursting into a maniacal cackle mid-song.

The play had its share of catchy numbers, including an early sequence between Hansel and Gretel where Gretel tries to teach her rhythm-challenged brother how to dance, with less than favorable results. Near the end of the first act, the children’s father, played by Christopher Proulx, senior music major, belts out a shanty-type song which causes his wife, played by Naomi Rutz, junior music education major, to ask if he’s drunk. While Proulx’s song will manage to get stuck in a casual listener’s head for a few days, it also serves to remind the audience that “Hansel and Gretel” is more than a fairy tale, it is also a reminder that the original text was an admonishment of the hardships of medieval life.

“Tra-la-la-la,” Proulx sang, “Hunger is the poor man’s curse.”

The play could not have come together as seamlessly as it did without the help of a dedicated stage crew and director. An enlarged copy of the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales was the most prominent prop on the stage. The book folded out to serve as both the children’s house and the candy cottage.

Robert Guarino, associate professor of music, both directed and produced this rendition. The Carnegie Hall veteran played a huge hand in calming down some of the performers who were making their stage debuts.

As the Black Box Theater emptied out Saturday evening, members of the audience had a hard time containing their praise.

“The opera was great,” Rachel Seaton, junior criminology major, said. “I’ve never been to an opera before. It was different from what I’m used to, but the actors really brought everything to life and made it easy to follow.”

“The actors were wonderful, the scenery was effective,” Mike Kelley, junior philosophy major, said. “This was the first production I’ve seen here (at the College) and I’ll definitely come back again.”