Rumpelstiltskin, by the prolific Brothers Grimm, is one of those beloved stories which which most American children are familiar. Match the Brothers up with the unconventionally entertaining Manhattan Children's Theatre, and you've got yourself a pot of gold. Casting a woman in the title role, this production was fresher, faster, and hip enough for any kid (any height) in the mood for a little name-dropping.
Mary (played wonderfully by Leah Sprecher) lives a pretty dull life in her village, with her father the miller (Robert Anton). One day, the King (Chris Alonzo) makes an announcement that he is looking for a queen. He searches through the entire kingdom for a woman who has a talent that he has never seen before. The miller brings his reluctant daughter to the King and tells him that she can spin straw into gold. The king locks her up, weeping, in a dungeon. A sprightly Rumpelstiltskin comes to her and tells her that he will help her if she gives him her first-born son. Mary agrees to this and soon afterward is freed and becomes queen. Years later, she gives birth to a son and is revisited by the strange little man, who has come to claim what is rightfully his. Mary begs him to let her keep her child, but he is insistent. Finally, he tells her that she has three days to guess what his name is. If she can guess his name she can keep the child. After a lot of sleuth work, she finds out the name with the help of everyone in the kingdom. Oh, yes. And then they all live happily ever after.
Alonzo was entertaining as the King and used a voice not unlike the narrator on TV's The Powerpuff Girls. Cartoonish and charming, he seemed to easily win the hearts of the audience.
Anton played an appropriately obnoxious father to Sprecher. His singing voice was pleasant, and his nerdy quality played well against the slick and too-cool-to-hang-out-with-you palace guards.
Sprecher displayed prowess as a vaudevillian and used it to the show's advantage. She was the perfect contemporary princess.
Ellen Zolezzi played the title role with a frighteningly energetic liveliness that kept the show moving in a quick and savvy fashion.
But the shining star of the show was the powerfully present Justin Misenhelder, who played the role of the Henchman. His character was dead set against his king marrying this common girl from the village, and even years after Mary was queen he still communicated with her with a delightful disdain.
Mark Sarto's music and lyrics were very successful in modernizing the play for the current generation. His opening number, with all the townspeople milling about the stage, was exciting.
Tracey Sawyer created a wonderful set that was tall and colorful. Especially the palace flats, which allowed Misenhelder and his posse to switch places for humorous bits -- like an episode of Laugh In.
Brian Byrne provided an engaging lighting scheme that changed with each passing scene. Aaron P. Mastin costumed the actors with a mixture of modern and classical styles.
Laura Stevens directed the show with a clear and quick style that kept it moving like a TV variety show.
Stevens and artistic director Bruce Merrill are among the hardest-working people in the business of children's theatre. It is always exciting to see what they'll conjure up next. As a result of continually producing high-quality performances, Manhattan Children's Theatre remains a leading exponent of the genre in New York.
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Copyright 2004 Jade Esteban Estrada