Editors' pick

Rapunzel

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Editorial Review

'Rapunzel' lets down its hair and has some fun
By Celia Wren
Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012

If you have to have a witch for a mother, you could do a lot worse than the enchantress in Imagination Stage's "Rapunzel." Sure, this black-arts virtuoso has a bad habit of turning acquaintances into brussels sprouts, and she keeps her adopted daughter in a tower with no stairs. But the Witch is a secret romantic; she likes to tango; and she bakes a mean eye-of-newt cake.

The tongue-in-cheek portrait of the sorceress-mom (actress Gillian Shelly, displaying sure comic flair) is one of the strengths of "Rapunzel," a pleasant-enough version of the Brothers Grimm classic, with book and lyrics by David Crane and Marta Kauffman (creators of TV's "Friends") and score by Michael Skloff. Fluently directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and featuring an economically sized cast of four, it's a gently quirky entertainment that evokes a world of magical wonders while pondering more mundane truths - like the fact that kids grow up, and that, sooner or later, we all have to venture outside our personal comfort zones.

The stairless tower is a comfort zone, as well as a prison, for the teenage Rapunzel (Felicia Curry, channeling innocence, sweetness and, when it comes to the Witch's overprotectiveness, plausibly conflicted emotions).

After a lifetime of treating her long hair as a BFF, the girl is understandably excited to meet Prince Brian, a royal scion who hasn't slain any dragons yet and so feels himself to be an underachiever.

When the Witch catches the prince (Jonathan Atkinson, acting affably hapless) breaking into the tower, she punishes him with a hex: a pair of opaque glasses that he can't remove. Then she sends the two young people into exile. But never fear: Naive as she is, Rapunzel demonstrates courage while guiding the temporarily blinded prince through the kingdom, and events end happily for everyone - including the Witch.

The tale's upbeat tone is reflected in Skloff's perky music (which pays occasional homage to Renaissance court dances) and in the swirly, multicolored forest set designed by Milagros Ponce de Leon (a tree-house-size tower scoots on for the scenes that take place in Rapunzel's cozy jail).

Exuberance also buoys the fairy-tale costumes (designed by Frank Labovitz) and some of the characters' coiffures: The Witch's tresses are the color of lime Jell-O, for instance, and Prince Brian's shaggy 'do suggests Rod Stewart after a slightly deflating royalty statement.

Admittedly, the guy exhibiting the least amount of hair does most of the dramaturgical heavy-lifting: Michael John Casey (with a silvery buzz cut) plays the prince's long-suffering valet Simon, as well as the king, an innkeeper, a cow and a con man who bamboozles Rapunzel into buying a super-pricey mop. The actor brings panache to all of these turns, but he's particularly appealing as Simon, who learns that the Witch can be a rather charming sort.

New experiences can be scary but also rewarding, "Rapunzel" reminds us. Who can argue with that?

Much ado about a 'do
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, April 6, 2012

Rapunzel, that luxuriously tressed star of the Brothers Grimm tales, is due for a little makeover, no? That damsel-in-distress look she has been rocking for centuries is starting to feel a little stale.

In Imagination Stage's new production of "Rapunzel," she's just another cooped-up teenager who plays with her hair too much. She's going on 16 and has a curfew that borders on cruel.

But her biggest problem? She's got serious mama drama.

This musical version, like the original, tells the tale of an infant snatched from her parents when they dare to steal vegetables from a witch's garden. But "the witch is not someone who's imprisoning her" in a tower, says costume designer Frank Labovitz.

To her, the witch is just Mom - if a slightly overbearing one.

Though the witch is not her actual mother, she really loves Rapunzel, says Felicia Curry, who will don the heroine's 6-foot tresses. "She keeps her there because she really wants to take care of her, and she thinks that's the way to do it. And Rapunzel wants to stay because she wants to make her mom happy."

Until, that is, Rapunzel, Rapunzel lets down her hair - and her guard - for a charming prince also trying to get out from under a parent's thumb. He teaches her about the outside world, and Rapunzel learns a little something about herself, too.

"I think you get to see the characters as real people," says director Kathryn Chase Bryer. "Especially the witch. It becomes a real story of parent and child."

If your little ones enjoy the thrills a scary old witch can proffer a fairy tale, Chase Bryer insists that this witch does have her warts.

"She will be scary," the director says. "She is going to be green, and when they argue, she definitely squashes you. She's like, 'No, you're going to stay 15.' "

But the musical, she says, is more lighthearted than anything else, and not by accident. It was written by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, who created the hit TV show "Friends" and who wrote youth theater before making it big in television.

To evoke a place where Rapunzel's hair would fit right in, designer Labovitz focused on creating eccentric coifs for much of the cast. It's a "world of extreme hair," he says. "For me it became a way to establish what the character looks like, and then dressing that character." The witch's bouffant is woven through with shades of chartreuse; nothing less than "the Bieber" was considered for the prince. A wigmaker's head is topped with a purple, curly and asymmetrical 'do. And Rapunzel's is full of flowers - and meaning.

"This hair's not just hair," Curry says. "This hair is the only thing I have up here. I talk to it, I cut it, I comb it, we have sleepovers; this is a friend to her."

Curry, who is African American, says she thinks the casting will transform the story for audiences. "It's going to be different for a lot of people," says Curry, who has also appeared in such musicals as Signature Theatre's "Les Miserables."

"It's not what a princess usually looks like. Or sounds like. Or acts like," Curry says. "That's a really new take on it, and it's going to be a reminder to the kids that a princess can be anybody . . . whoever your prince may be. And you don't have to be the traditional beauty to be that."