OREM — Presented as part of the Theatre for Young Audiences series at the SCERA Center for the Arts, Rapunzel! Rapunzel!, directed by Chase Ramsey, has more to accomplish than simply to entertain. As explained during the pre-show welcome, the cast presents the show daily to elementary audiences with an added educational element about audience participation and theater etiquette. What serves during the day as education must translate to the evening as entertainment. And while the children remain the target audience, a successful show in this genre has to provide enough substance and talent to satisfy the chaperones.
The script and score by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman is based on the traditional story of a long-haired maiden in a tower, but included a few less-familiar twists. In this version, the evil enchantress Lady ZaZalinsky (Samantha Frisby) is actually Rapunzel’s aunt who has intentionally hidden Rapunzel (Kelly Coombs Johnson) with the intent to inherit the throne herself. Taylor Eliason plays Sir Roderick, the obligatory prince. Entirely new characters include Socrates (Shawn M. Mortensen), an enchanted dragon who is both Rapunzel’s guardian and tutor, and Edgar (Brandon Haden), a hairdresser on a quest of his own.
In its educational endeavors, this show was a great success. As for theatrical education, melodramatic signs helped teach the audience when to participate appropriately. The educator in me particularly enjoyed all the vocabulary packed into the songs, and I couldn’t stop thinking about all the ways to take this show back into an elementary classroom. There were rhymes (“Nothing Rhymes with Rapunzel”), alliteration (in the deep, dark, dank, dismal, dreary forest), and plenty of synonyms to go around. When it came to entertaining its intended audience, however, this production was somewhat inconsistent. Lady ZaZa’s pop culture references fell flat, contextually over the heads of the kids and not funny enough for the adults. Scenes featuring Eliason and Haden were often difficult to follow because each spoke so quickly that the words almost seemed to overlap. The resolution felt hurried and a bit confusing as the King (Justin Stockett) and Queen (Jillian Ormond) suddenly returned to their kingdom—as puppets. It all felt as though the show had simply run out of time and needed to conclude as quickly as possible.
Despite its flaws, this production had many strengths. Johnson’s portrayal of Rapunzel was youthful without becoming whiny, and her voice was perfectly suited to the score. The harmonies in songs like “What a Very Lovely Day” performed by Johnson, Mortensen, and Frisby sounded gorgous. In fact, under the music direction of Eliason, each musical number was full and entertaining. Janessa Lamb Ramsey’s choreography added subtle depth to the musical numbers by supporting the plot. One of the best moments was in “Song of the Gypsy” when the Gypsy Woman (Julie Nevin) helped an enchanted Sir Roderick and Edgar learn her moves.
If the chaperones wanted substance, there was plenty to be found in this production’s technical aspects. A beautiful tower, the creation of set designer Nat Reed and master carpenter Joel Farnsworth, featured two different directions of rotation to allow the audience to see both the front and back of the tower as well as the interior and exterior of Rapunzel’s chamber as needed in each scene. Lights, designed by Mike James, helped make transitions between castle and forest, between day and night, and between the moods of each scene. And there is just something to be said for a production that features a huge dragon-puppet brought to life by both an actor (Mortensen) in front and the dragon’s designer (Reed) in back. I am not certain which was more amazing: to watch Reed’s movements support the inflection and direction of Mortensen’s character, or to watch Mortensen operate the head of the dragon while singing or delivering lines in full view of the audience.
Although this production had its highs and lows, it definitely met its objectives as a Theatre for Young Audiences production. Children from all parts of Utah County would find something to love about this show, so I suggest that you bring your little ones to see Rapunzel and her crew in Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale.