24 September 2018

The moral of this tale

Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale is a haphazard collection of words passing for a children's musical title. Repeat it several times, however, and you'll hear an irresistible lilt with undertones of intrigue. Much like the popular princess name inspired by her mother's favorite salad ingredient.

Beyond the unpalatable, frankly absurd Brothers Grimm original (Surrender your child as payment for stolen vegetables? Come on!) and the often-called sanitized Disney version, there's Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman's theatrical translation of Rapunzel. In this retelling, the tandem has done two things well: (1) Let everyone's hair down and (2) put the music back in musical.

Repertory Philippines stages Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. The show, directed by Joy Virata, runs until January 27, 2019 at OnStage, Greenbelt, Makati City.

Repertory Philippines stages the Vogt and Friedman musical for their annual Rep's Theater for Young Audiences. I am curious as to what kids might cite as lessons they've learned after watching the show, given that it doesn't overtly teach any. But maybe that's the point. As with all kinds of entertainment — whether high- or low-brow, children's or strictly for adults only, or somewhere in between — the most important question has to be, "Did you enjoy it?"

My personal answer is absolutely.

Vogt and Friedman take us back to form. Their revision includes a character-narrator who reviews the basics of a fairy tale as he narrates his own, and in doing so creates a self-awareness in the play. Long-ago fairy tales as we know are written in historical periods with values that are far from what we uphold now. Rapunzel! acknowledges this without becoming stiflingly logical. Quite the contrary.

The artistic staff includes set designer Oliver Roxas-Green, costume designer Raven Ong, lighting designer John Batalla, and choreographer PJ Rebullida.

The entire production — from set to costume design, to choreography, acting and storyline — is charged with a playfulness that draws you in. They've gone into whimsy overdrive. Here's a world where you can witness a gypsy woman's thoughts dance, and accept that there are gentlemen who prefer hair styling school over knight training and battle evil aunts on the side if need be.

Each character charms. Kudos, I trust, are due to Joy Virata's direction and the cast who have fully inhabited their roles and carried the weight of expectation — not to mention Raven Ong's impossible costumes — being the pros that they are.

Like a thread that holds everything in place (and audiences captive), Rapunzel!'s music has an organic quality that I've been missing in many musicals. The lyrics — witty and crafted with a keenness to poetic sound devices — push the story forward, while melodic lines and themes recur to prompt a sense of continuity. And it's simply catchy.

Cara Barredo and Carla Guevera-Laforteza play the roles of Rapunzel and Lady Zaza, respectively.

Granted, I'm no longer a child. But if this show has fired up my imagination, then perhaps someone younger would see something onstage that's even more magical.

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