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Barbecuing The Kids 

Manic Hansel & Gretel gets primal

The deeper we stray into the primeval woods of familiar folktales, the closer we come to the subconscious core of our fears and desires. So it is in Hansel and Gretel, which opened wickedly last weekend at Children's Theatre and resumes on April 23.

That candy-encrusted cabin in the heart of the woods, together with the flamboyant cannibal of a witch who guards it so fiendishly, are extreme visions of unbridled appetite and stampeding paranoia -- all wrapped together in one delicious, frightful package. Forbidden fruit and its consequences.

CT artistic director Alan Poindexter amps up the siblings' frolic and their subsequent fright, so Mark Sutton and Cody Harding are bigger than life -- and older -- as H&G. Likewise, Nicia Carla traverses the line between the witch's ridiculousness and her nightmarish menace so often that the line eventually disappears.

There's a manic dimension to it all, from the opening scene when Hansel and Gretel are playing hide-and-seek. Perhaps the grating quality of the children's play originates onstage, or perhaps it comes from our knowledge that their lives are not as blithe and carefree as they look. Later when they're abandoned in the woods, the children's fear at the sight of a huge puppet bird is even more excessive.

By the time we see the witch, we've been introduced to the siblings' resourcefulness and conditioned to view their fears as somewhat overblown. Still the witch, in costume designer Bob Croghan's florid rig, is a sight to behold: a patchy, absurdly frilly dress in purple, pink, and brown; and a nose that has you expecting Carla to call the kids "my pretties." We get a ghoulish costume change for the witch before she attempts to cannibalize her captives -- a mildly nauseating whip of gray and brown -- just about the time when Carla's crimson lipstick has begun to form a film on her teeth.

Who says kids under six are too young for this show? Bwaaa-ha-ha!

Jill Bloede plays the children's mother with a samurai hairdo and all the maternal warmth of Medea, returning later for a more comical turn as the bird puppeteer. Derek Gamba, sporting a phony red beard and mustache that perfectly match his hair, gives Papa a winsome mixture of cruelty, weakness, and paternal affection. Not the best father to come home to, but he'll have to do.

Gary Sivak homes in on the primal yearning and savagery of the Grimm Brothers' tale in his soundtrack. Lighting designer Eric Winkenwerder counterbalances the drabness of the set, populating the nighttime woods with bright menacing eyes. If Croghan's sets don't quite deliver the pop of his costumes, we still must reserve special praise for the witch's dinner table and her blazing oven. They lend an extra barbecue spice to Carla's superb overtures and ravings.

The Moving Poets Theatre of Dance's sensibility has now collided with the adventure and sensuality of the 1001 Arabian Nights. If you adore Cirque du Soleil-style aerobatics with contorted colleens suspended in mid-air on preternaturally strong silken fabrics, Poets waited just long enough before voyaging to this fantastical Araby.

They embarked with the alban elved dance company from Winston-Salem, whose founder, Karola Luttringhaus, was a thing of enchantment when she presented a suite of aerial choreographies at Poets 6/15 a couple of years ago. Poets founder Till Schmidt-Rimpler was falling under the spell of Arabian Nights at about the same time he was first exposed to Luttringhaus's magic.

Poets provided the script, most of the dancers, and the Booth Playhouse for the collaboration while Luttringhaus provided most of the new choreography on a stage where silks and evocative paper lampshades were suspended everywhere. Randell Haynes, long attuned to the Poets' sensuous gumbo, narrated serviceable snips of the Arabian Nights framework, a couple of dreamy ramblings on the landscape from estimable translator Richard Burton, and healthy portions of the naughty tale of "The Porter and the Three Ladies."

Given their vastness, you probably can't be too charmed by the tales of Scheherazade, but Schmidt-Rimpler has overindulged on the importation of silken cords and aerobatics; less would have been more.

On the other hand, the comical interludes were some of the most inventive ever unveiled by Moving Poets. Schmidt-Rimpler choreographed and danced "A Romance" decked out in a harlequin outfit that exaggerated the tummy zone while his partner, Bridget Morris, was equally plumped in the chest. Two amorous marshmallows.

Nor was Luttringhaus always tethered to her silks. She conceived a gorgeous water dance solo for Lena Rose Polzonetti at a climactic point in the porter's adventure, "Lena's Bath," that was all the more spectacular for the sparsity of Schmidt-Rimpler's lighting design. Then in an inspired flight of lunacy, Luttringhaus took us on a detour from Arabian to "Appalachian Nights" as costumer MyLoan Dinh engirdled the three Baghdad ladies in a profusion of petticoats and plunked our narrator in a pair of overalls.

Music by Daveed Korup and the Poets musicians was nearly as far removed from the Middle East. Newcomers may have been shocked that these strange revels -- beginning with a decadent German cabaret ditty and ending with an exuberant line dance -- could possibly emerge from the bewitching Scheherazade and the chastened King Shahryar. But the growing legion of Moving Poets faithful were probably delighted.

You really could hear those dancing feet in the pulsating, toe-tapping production of 42nd Street that roared into Ovens Auditorium last week. Energy consumption was ferocious as the ensemble tapped up and down a staircase in the finale, stoked by the hottest of the steaming arrangements by Donald Johnston, and smoked by a 13-piece band driven by Jeff Rizzo.

Daren Kelley's grandiloquence as hard-driving musical director Julian Marsh had a crass righteousness to it, particularly when he exhorted neophyte Peggy Sawyer to "come back a star." Multi-talented Shannon O'Bryan may not emerge from this tour a star, but it won't be for her lack of zest as Peggy. After fronting the ensemble in the grand finale, O'Bryan was encased in sweat from head to toe.

While delivering a full ration of Broadway glitter, 42nd Street took us back to an era when people truly believed that salvation came from pulling together as a group. Nowadays such idealism is disdained as quaint Commie bosh. Too bad.

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