Lyric Theatre at Illinois once again brings incredible opera to the Krannert Center stage. Hansel and Gretel was conducted by Filippo Ciabatti, directed by Tom Mitchell with choreography by Philip Johnson, the three act fairy opera that ran from November 9-12th in the Tryon Theater.
The first thing you will notice of this production is the whimsical, unique backdrops. I personally loved the contrast between the stark black and white lines of the family’s home, and the beautiful, almost Willy Wonka-esque nature of the forest. Hansel and Gretel was filled with whimsy, sweets, and plenty of laughter at Hansel and Gretel’s silly antics.
Hansel, played by Olivia Gronenthal, and Gretel, played by Molly Abrams, captured the essence of two naïve children who crave fun and adventure, and the fear that comes with being in the woods all by themselves. They beautifully played off of each other’s childish quirks, and their voices were equally as beautiful, blending with a precision that shows the hard work and dedication they put into this music. Hansel and Gretel’s mother, played by ShayLyssa Breon Alexander, showcased the infuriating nature of having two very mischievous children. She represented the struggles of a poor mother trying desperately to feed her children in a way that tugs at your heartstrings. Backed by an incredibly powerful voice, she throws out her children in a fit after she caught them dancing about instead of doing their chores. As her drunken husband, played by Timothy K. Bostwick, comes home with a glint in his eye and a drink in his hand, he boisterously announces with an impressive, impactful voice that he has a feast ready for his family. When he realizes that the children are gone, and that there is a witch hidden in the forest, the two look at each other with horror in their eyes. This is when the madness begins as the parents frantically chase after their children in the forest.
When the children are lost, they have no choice but to sleep in the woods for the night. This is where the twelve guardian angels come in to protect them from the dangers of the night. Though I was a bit confused by the choice of animals for the projections, I could not help but admire the amount of work, effort, and creativity that went into these incredible floating, dancing projections. It truly showed how technology can add another layer of intrigue to productions, and how this opera brought aspects of the modern age to a traditional fairy tale.
The Witch, played by James Hevel, was portrayed brilliantly. From the moment he stepped onto the stage, he fully assumed the physicality and the air of wickedness mixed with many doses of humor. I could also not believe how wide his range was, going from high soprano notes to lower tenor notes. He, to put it simply, was a joy to watch. You could not take your eyes off of him. Truth be told, I wish the Witch’s death was a bit more climatic. However, as soon as the children stolen from the Witch came out to sing, you could not help but be thankful that, to quote the Wizard of Oz, “The Wicked Witch is dead.”
Overall, this production was a delight to watch. Family-friendly and full of fun and adventure, you couldn’t help but smile while applauding during their well-deserved bows. I look forward to see what else Lyric Theatre at Illinois has in store.
Photos by Darrell Hoemann.