September 19, 2019

Players, story shine in ‘Hansel & Gretel’

It’s always a challenge to bring new life to an age-old story.

The Hat City Music Theater was certainly up to that task Saturday night, re-enervating the Engelbert Humperdinck opera “Hansel & Gretel” for a quarter-full Hutchins Concert Hall at the Maine Center for the Arts (the production was mounted again Sunday afternoon).

Everyone knows the story: two kids are trashing their home while playing, so their mother sends them outside to take care of a chore. They keep playing and get lost. After a night away, and following their stomachs, they get into trouble, but eventually find a way out and the way home.

Actually, the familiarity of the story is a plus. When a listener couldn’t quite make out the words, or the Hat City Symphonette was a little louder than the singer on stage, it was no big deal because the audience could pretty much follow along anyway.

Fortunately, those kinds of sound problems were the exception, which allowed patrons to just enjoy the lively performances by the young cast. Kristin Rothfuss and Victoria Maloley Pereira respectively were standouts as the title characters, and September Bigelow made the most out of the showy role of The Witch.

A nice addition by conductor-director David Katz was having six local youths play the Gingerbread Chorus, who appeared late in the third scene, after being freed from The Witch’s spell by Hansel and Gretel, and who sang a song with the pair. (The symphonette also was made up of local musicians, many of whom Katz had worked with while heading up the Chamber Orchestra of Maine from 1995 to 2000.)

This enduring production of “Hansel & Gretel” was well-designed. Its triangular, rotating set, created by Katz and Peter Bathum, was effective and attractive, yet didn’t distract the audience from the actors themselves.

This streamlined but enchanting production of “Hansel & Gretel” let the story be the thing, and the small audience showed their appreciation for that with sustained applause at the end.

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