Rapunzel is a Charming Climb
Considering taking your little one to a production of Into the Woods, but afraid that all that Freudian innuendo and moral allegory might be a little much? A perfectly acceptable alternative, then, is taking him/her to the musical Rapunzel at the 10th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. The show will delight kids, and although its clever concept is sprinkled with a few too many moonbeams and rainbows, it probably won't bore their parents.The story begins as Father (Tom Urciuoli) and Mother (Betsy Marra), off to a dinner party, leave imaginative young Jamie (Raum-Aron) and Lee (Katy Apostolico) with Storyteller (played with raucous flair by Jenn Wehrung), who reads them the classic fairy tale about a long-haired heroine kept in tower by an overprotective witch--whose rapunzel lettuce the girl's mother had the impudence to steal. But the children aren't the easiest audiences. As the tale unfolds before their eyes, they question the characters' motivations and even change major plot points. The latter is done to the bewilderment of the Prince, who is made to trade his crown for a crayon-covered beret as he is transformed into an artist (hey, to a kid, happily ever afters can have poverty in them). It's a nifty idea, and the show is at its amusing best when the worlds of fairy land and living room meet. The characters even respond to the children and Storyteller, who is chastised by the Witch for interrupting one of her melodramatic tirades. The cast is spirited, and Kristina Teschner is a winsome, golden-voiced Rapunzel (although one wishes that when the kids turn the Prince to an artist, they might change Miss R. from boring to non-). Padgett brings a nice mix of goofiness and intensity to his role, but it's D'Jamin Bartlett to whom the show belongs. She gives a magnetically earthy and comically menacing performance. Bartlett even adds a dollop of sex appeal to her Witch (it's not hard to believe she created the role of Petra in A Little Night Music). Vocally, she's even stronger than in her Night Music days; her belty voice smolders through the bluesy defense number "Why Is the Witch So Bad?" And really, until the witch banishes Rapunzel to a creepy enchanted forest, she really does mean well. Karen Rousso's direction is efficient, although the scenes in which dimmed lights (Robert G. Waring is the lighting designer) suggest Rapunzel letting down her hair cause the show's pacing to lag. In fact, Rousso (with the help of Judy Dulberg and Kerry Wolf) wrote the lyrics and with Holly Bartlett, the daughter of D'Jamin, she penned the music. The book and score may strike some adults as cringingly banal at times ("imagine rainbows coloring days/imagine the world without braids"), but the authors' sense of funny irreverence balances these moments out. Hearing such pastel sentiments, young Jamie exclaims "Do people really go around talking like that?" Overall, the writing is charming.Billy Wood's minimal set --with its window representing Rapunzel's tower--invites the audience to use its imagination, and Albert Walsh's costumes add a nice fairy tale shimmer. At the end of the show, the cast sings "Endings Are Beginnings in Disguise," with the reminder that dreams are treasuries in which to mint more happily ever afters. The show is an appealing valentine to the days when it's possible to believe that two very long braids can lead to eternal bliss with a handsome prince--or a quirky artist formerly known as one.