Rapunzel – Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix

The first production from Valley Youth Theatre for the New Year, Rapunzel, is now in its second week, but due to the show’s popularity the theatre has already announced an extension of its run until March 10.  The theatre has said that part of the show’s appeal is due to the Disney film Tangled, and that may be true, but that’s only part of the story.  Rapunzel does a certain something so well and has so much fun with it that surely word-of-mouth from audiences who saw the production in its opening weekend is really the reason behind its extension.  Here’s why.

Rapunzel is that unexpected theatrical pleasure that makes you wonder, how is it that VYT continues to enthrall in such unexpected ways?  The show has a small cast – it needs only six players to tell its story – but, under the direction of Lauren Antioco, it engages its audience and manages to pull the children out of their seats and into the story so much that in many ways the production actually has a large cast.  With its continual interaction between the players and the audience, everyone ends up being part of the show.

 

The story, taken from a script by Sidney Berger, follows the original fairy tale closely.  A witch, played with maniacal relish by Rebecca Caswell, is proud of her vegetable garden and protects it with such determination that should anyone be caught stealing her veggies she’ll turn them into bumble bees or ants.  When the nearby Baker (Jenson Metcalf) steals some carrots for his ever-hungry wife (Alena Sanderson, a potential talent for a future TV sit-com) the witch asks the children in the audience, “What shall I turn him into, children?”  “ANTS!” the audience responds.  And there’s the secret to the show’s success.  The children are both involved and engaged and happy to be so, and throughout the production, in the same way that a Christmas European Pantomime uses its audience to be a part of the show and shout at the stage, Rapunzel does the same.

 

When the witch wants to know where her pet dragon (a funny Wil Arends) is hiding, a child shouted, “He’s over there!” while pointing to a section in the audience.  “Am I not the most wonderful mother of all?” the wicked witch asks at a later point.  “Yes!” declared the children, no doubt giving their own parents the biggest smile of the show, though perhaps the funniest and obviously most unexpected moment came when the witch announced what she was going to do to a certain character, but told the audience, “…Not a word of this to anyone.”  A young child’s voice suddenly called out, “I WILL tell!”

At one point, even the prince (Jamin Metcalf) turns to the audience for advice, though when he’s warned not to climb the tower again to see his true-love,Rapunzel (the delightful Baily Shultz – what prince wouldn’t fall in love with her?) he’s not really listening.  “I’m sorry,” he tells the children, “I can’t understand you, but we’ll talk later.”

 

By involving the children in the show to this degree VYT has tapped into something quite special.  Connecting with an audience in this manner is certainly not original yet Rapunzel does it so well that most children leaving the theatre will feel as though they haven’t simply been entertained, they’ve enjoyed a collective experience that can never be duplicated by home entertainment.  And, hopefully, if the show has done its job right, which I’m sure it has, a love of live theatre is also born.  And that’s priceless.

 

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