nytheatre.com review by Trav S.D.
April 23, 2005
No one ever made a savvier move than did Bruce Merrill and Laura Stevens when they established the Manhattan Children’s Theatre in 2002. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it is notoriously unfriendly to kids and their caregivers, who are constantly at wit’s end to find “something to do” that doesn’t cost a fortune or warp the kids’ impressionable little minds. Parents of younger children could do far worse than to take in a season of productions by this charming little theater.
At least that's my impression after visiting their current offering, Rapunzel, a sweet retelling of the Brothers Grimm story about the eponymous girl with the long hair (Sonia Hoffman). Rapunzel has been locked in a doorless tower by a witch (Holland Taylor) who had seized the girl as a baby in revenge for the theft of some rapunzel lettuce from her garden by Rapunzel’s parents (Elisha Allison Oesch and Gershon Levy). In the Grimm version of the story, a rescue attempt by a young Prince is foiled, and the Prince and Rapunzel are only reunited after Rapunzel has been banished to the desert and the Prince has been wandering around blind for a number of years.
The Manhattan Children’s Theatre likes to add a "twist" to things, however, and so the story has been unaccountably changed, although not necessarily for the worse. In this version, the Prince (Adam Cooley) is actually Rapunzel’s twin brother, adopted by the King and Queen, and separated from his family in his parents' desperation to keep him out of the clutches of the witch. This cuts out any romance between the Prince and Rapunzel, and any unconscious message about a young man infiltrating a young lady’s impregnable tower. And while the witch has taught Rapunzel to be terrified of men, the creators have also been careful to convey that she is also afraid of rabbits, daisies and trees.
In addition to removing any subliminal sex from the tale, MCT has also larded it up with some feel-good psychobabble of the “it’s okay to cry” and “it’s okay to talk” variety. The messages feel grafted onto the story, but, what the heck, it’s for kids, and it’s definitely a better message than “kill as many bad guys as you can with your machine gun,” which is what they get from TV, movies, and video games.
The young cast is charming and their skills are appropriate to the age level of the audience. Three or four pleasant songs fill out the afternoon’s entertainment. As an alternative to the non-stop banquet of junk food, Rapunzel is a nutritious option.