Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hansel und Gretel, Oberlin Opera Theater and Cabaret, The Academy for the Performing Arts

(Karen Jesse as the witch in Hansel ind Gretel.)

Sometimes, when the schedule allows, it’s good to take a break and see what’s happening regarding live performances at the high school and college level. And based on what I’ve seen this weekend at opposite ends of the Cleve-burg region, it’s clear that the kids are all right.

And if you hurry, you can catch one of them since their final performances are this afternoon.

Hansel und Gretel, Oberlin Opera Theater
For a story about kidnapping, murder and the cannibalism of little kiddies, this sure is a pretty opera. The bounteous musical material by composer Engelbert Humperdinck is immensely pleasing, performed with precision and verve by the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra and sung by a raft of talented students (some about to graduate college and a couple not yet out of grade school).

It is performed in German, with the English translation helpfully displayed on a screen above the stage.

The first act, comprising two scenes, shows H&G battling with each other at home, yearning for food as their mother and father scrap for sustenance. Once out in the woods, the kids fall asleep and wake up amidst angels.

At this performance (and in today’s), Nicole Levesque as Hansel and Emily Hopkins as Gretel sing with clarity and power, even as they poke and torment each other.

But when they met up with Hexe, the witch in Act Two who lives in a cake and candy house, the kids’ dreams of the world’s biggest sugar buzz are trampled. As Hexe, guest artist and 2004 Oberlin grad Karen Jesse sings with ferocious sweetness in her multi-colored outfit. And she’s very creepy, kind of like John Wayne Gacy in drag.

As directed by Jonathon Field and conducted by Raphael Jimenez, this Hansel und Gretel is thoroughly delightful, and sometimes quite witty. Right up to the moment when Hexe gets baked in her own oven and the children are rescued.

Cabaret, The Academy for the Performing Arts
As the TV show Glee proves, it’s al lot easier to go through high school when you’re in your twenties (and for some cast members, almost in their thirties). But when you’re 17 years old, or younger, there are a lot more issues.

That said, the talented high school cast of Cabaret does some amazing things under the direction of Tom Fulton, director of the Academy. Drawing from several schools, the Academy offers a two-year college prep program for juniors and seniors, preparing them for success in the performing arts—in college and beyond.

In this significantly de-sexualized production (a nod to the tender age of the performers, and to avoid heart attacks among the parents), fine performances are turned in by Dan Hoy (who doubles as choreographer) as the Emcee and Emily Wirthwein as Sally Bowles. Hoy’s dance with the gorilla in “If You Could See Her” is spot-on, including the original and chilling lyric at the end.

Jon Loya sings with deep resonance as Cliff Bradshaw, and R. Brendan Hall brings a surprising level of humor and understanding to his role of the aged Herr Schultz.

Even though the dialog in some scenes proceeds at a fairly glacial pace, these young actors maintain their discipline and manage to conquer this complex musical.

Ah, to be 17 again and learning theater from someone as talented and perceptive as Tom Fulton.

Hansel und Gretel
Through today, Nov. 10, at Hall Auditorium, Oberlin
College campus, 67 N. Main St., Oberlin, 440-775-8169

Through today, Nov. 10, at the Chagrin Falls High School campus, 400 E. Washington St., Chagrin Falls, 440-715-4004

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