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“Hansel & Gretel” by W!ld Rice

November 25, 2012

Event: “Hansel & Gretel” by W!ld Rice
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 22nd Nov – 15th Dec 2012

My Milkshake Brings All The Kids To The Yard

It’s hard to escape the delectably eye-catching publicity materials for “Hansel & Gretel” – W!ld Rice’s latest offering at the Drama Centre – which also happens to be their 9th pantomime production since 2003.

Even if one is unfamiliar with the company’s past pantomime works, there are two things which the show definitely has going for it – one, the well-loved Brothers Grimm story featuring arguably Fairytale Land’s most celebrated pair of siblings, and two, the insatiable love for all things food, which is ever so Singaporean.

In some ways this 2012 pantomime does feel like a fresh break of sorts from the previous ones.

For a start, it features popular comedian and Dim Sum Dolly Pam Oei in her very first outing in the director’s chair, and thematically, it’s a show not about your usual princes and princesses, but rather about a pair of adorable siblings.

Casting wise, it was also refreshing to see Vernetta Lopez taking to the stage, as I’d never seen her on a theatrical stage before.

As with all W!ld Rice pantomimes, the story is unabashedly localised and leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind that the entire tale takes place in Singapore.

Librettist and lyricist Alfian Sa’at showcases his famed satirical wit right off the bat with the opening number “In Sunny Queenstown”, which pokes fun at a certain recent regal visit to the district.

He then goes on to pepper the book with well-placed jokes about domestic helpers, singing pastors, and even a whole new take on a very recent NDP song, which seemed to make more sense lyrically than even the original version.

In the music department, “Hansel & Gretel” offers an entire score of original songs composed by Elaine Chan, who has also been responsible for 5 other W!ld Rice original scores to date – “Cinderel-LAH!” (2003 & 2010), “Aladdin” (2004), “Jack and the Bean-Sprout!” (2006), “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs” (2008), and “Beauty & the Beast” (2009).

The score is what we’ve come to expect from Elaine Chan – lively, upbeat numbers which have the uncanny ability to capture a certain local essence, although there seems to be a palpable lack of the slower, more emotional ballads in this score.

This could perhaps be attributed to the nature of the story itself, which might not have allowed much room for tender ballads (as compared to the previous pantomimes), and although “We’ll Never Be Apart” definitely qualifies as one, and possibly even “Dead At First Light” too, it’s hard to ignore the sense of imbalance in terms of song mix, as the introduction of more ballads could have offered the viewer some respite from the many up-tempo songs.

Nonetheless, standout songs for me include “Irresistible”, which manages to throw in all the mouth-watering local delicacies into one song, and the light, breezy sounds of “Just You and Me”, which also showcased ingenious use of counterpoint as well as dramatic juxtaposition.

The two Dwaynes of Singapore theatre coalesce in this production, with Dwayne Lau playing the father of the two kids, while Dwayne Tan plays “Hansel” to Denise Tan’s “Gretel”.

Vernetta Lopez steals the show with her incredibly conniving portrayal of “Cassandra” the evil stepmother, which came as a rather pleasant surprise to me.

Her ability with accents and aural comedy had always been apparent on radio, but seeing her on stage was a whole new experience altogether.

I thought her role was one of the shining moments in the show.

The ever-reliable Siti Khalijah and Sebastian Tan deliver the comedic goods once again, with Siti playing both “Vilma” the maid (in a get-up strangely reminiscent of a scene from this August’s “Army Daze”) and the oddball character “Nicki Minah”, while Sebastian Tan is in supreme form as “The Chef”.

I thought the casting for “Hansel & Gretel” was excellent, as Dwayne Tan certainly looked the part of skinny Hansel, while Vernetta kept audiences riveted with her engaging performance, and Siti and Sebastian took turns to keep the audiences in absolute stitches.

The comedy factor in this show was especially high, what with all its running gags and visual humour, and I wonder if a large part of it could be attributable to director Pam Oei’s own innate comedic abilities as an experienced performer herself.

And as is with the tradition of W!ld Rice pantomimes, the show manages to pull off the remarkable theatrical magic trick of pandering to both adults and children at the same time, although this time round they even went the whole nine yards with the food theme by dispensing with generous portions of food and candy during the show!

Plot wise, I felt that “Hansel & Gretel” took a bit too long to get to the chef’s hut, as we only really got to the inside of the hut in the second act.

I understand it could be because they wanted to use the moment whereby we are first introduced to the mysterious Chef as the proverbial cliffhanger to end the first act, but for a show which kept putting up droolsome images of the delicious candyhouse in its publicity materials, it did seem like we finally got to the candies later rather than sooner.

Also, certain plot elements took a bit of wrapping one’s head around, such as how the Chef could have had such selective myopia, or why the whole “minah spell” was cast and so on, but nonetheless, this is a family-friendly pantomime so maybe we should just take things at face value.

“Hansel & Gretel” is essentially a show about the importance of familial love, and is by all accounts a highly entertaining affair, scoring especially well for its talented and exuberant cast.

There is something for everyone – enough wonderful jokes, songs, gags and real candy in the musical to satisfy even the most demanding of appetites, both young and old.

And as such, “Hansel & Gretel” proves that you can definitely have your cake and eat it too.

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