Bad Hair Day

"Every story has a beginning" is both the opening song and premise of the bubbly Fringe Jr. musical Rapunzel, playing at Manhattan Children's Theater as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. When a cynical boy named Jamie and his angelic pigtailed sister Lee (played by child actors Raum-Aron and Katy Apostolico) are given a choice by their lovably upbeat Babysitter (Jenn Wehrung) about what fairy tale to read before bedtime, they are torn, having already heard them all several times. With a knowing smirk, the Babysitter selects "Rapunzel" despite the children's protests that they have heard "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, throw down your hair" a hundred times. The Babysitter asks if they know what came before that famous line, and after a moment's thought they are forced to admit they do not. They, as well as the audience, will find there are many surprises in store for those who have forgotten the beginning details.

From here we enter the world of make-believe, though the Babysitter is still onstage with the children, now acting as the Storyteller. The characters occasionally interact with her, either asking for a line or requesting that she stop interfering with theirs. Jamie and Lee occasionally offer their ideas for changes in the story, one example being when the Prince (Michael Pagett) makes his first appearance. The children decide princes are too overused in fairy tales and change his status to "artist."

The animated performances and tight plot help keep the central story strong, as the book and lyric writers, Karen Rousso, Judy Dulberg, and Kerry Wolf, supply us with a winning stream of lively songs. The standout numbers are "Why Is the Witch So Bad?" and "Snip," thanks to the amazing charisma and stage presence of the singer, D'Jamin Bartlett, who plays the Witch. Although she is clearly the show's antagonist, taking young Rapunzel from her parents and locking her in a high tower with no way out, her sassy, fun demeanor prevents her from ever being seen as truly wicked.

Rapunzel is a fun, family-friendly show appropriate for infants, toddlers, and grade-schoolers, though it is mostly intended for ages 5 to 12. As the play unfolds and builds toward its climax, it is startling to realize how many of the story's original details have been lost over time, making it the perfect tale to retell for contemporary audiences.

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