Holiday Cheer: OU Opera Theatre celebrates the holiday season with cautionary classic Hansel and Gretel 

click to enlarge Maggie Armand plays Gretel in OU Opera’s Hansel and Gretel. | Photo Photo University of Oklahoma / provided
  • Maggie Armand plays Gretel in OU Opera’s Hansel and Gretel. | Photo Photo University of Oklahoma / provided

A story about two children fleeing from a bloodthirsty witch can, in fact, elicit holiday cheer and jovial laughter.

The University of Oklahoma’s Opera Theatre presents Hansel and Gretel Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at Reynolds Performing Arts Center, 560 Parrington Oval, on OU’s campus.

Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera reimagines the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale as a lighter, more playful story about childhood whimsies in an enchanted setting.

“I think this kind of fairytale works great with music,” OU stage director William Ferrara told Oklahoma Gazette. “This is a very accessible opera for anyone to understand, and it’s a great holiday tradition for families to enjoy.”

Translated to English, the story stays true to the original: A brother and sister find themselves in a magical forest, encounter a malevolent yet clumsy witch and must escape before she turns them into everyone’s favorite holiday treat —gingerbread cookies.

Ferrara reassured theatergoers with children that this particular rendition maintains a more humorous tone over the darker original. The plot is set to lighthearted, energetic opera pieces and is broken into three acts.

“This version takes a fairly light, comic approach to the traditional story — it’s not at all spooky,” he said. “The witch is a source of laughter throughout the production, the songs are very folksy and upbeat and the lyrics are completely understandable.”

The family-friendly production features unique, folksy costumes, continuous dancing and a vivid stage design full of holiday icons and festivities.

“We have wonderful set design and costume design programs for students in the OU theater department, so everyone in this department gets to contribute to the production,” said Ferrara. “These students have been working with me and our faculty to produce some really unique, funny designs.”

This isn’t your average Christmas-themed production. Setting itself apart from the usual Hansel and Gretel productions, OU’s version gives the story a country-fried twist.

“Think hillbilly Hansel and Gretel, and you’ve got our show,” said Ferrara. “We placed the kids in a farmlike shack, the father has a moonshine flask and the witch is like Paula Deen on steroids. She even has her own cooking show.”

OU students extend their acting chops with this mix between modern-day parody and classic children’s story. A double-cast lineup of young singers and musicians makes for a unique experience each production night.

Maggie Armand and Rachel Snapp perform as Gretel, while Maddie Breedlove and Bea Kim play Hansel. Matching Hansel and Gretel’s good with mischievous evil, Nina Estelle Whyte and Melissa Delgado take on the role of the witch.

Hillbilly antics aside, Ferrara said productions like Hansel and Gretel give OU music and theater students the platform to shine while developing their talents.

“Certain stories reoccur during the holidays for a reason, and Hansel and Gretel offers light despite darkness in the world,” said Ferrara. “In returning to this narrative each year, we relive the joys and optimism of childhood. The ultimate message is one of hope in times of stress and disaster, no matter how playful the production seems. I know without a doubt this show will brighten the holiday season.”

Print headline: Season’s screamings, OU Opera Theatre celebrates the holiday season with cautionary classic Hansel and Gretel.

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Jessica Williams

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