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GRIMM: A New Musical – Two Sisters, One Necklace (Fringe Festival 2012)

by Karen Tortora-Lee on August 20, 2012

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Step into the world of GRIMM: A New Musical created by BIG Theatre Company and be ready to settle into old favorites, new wonders and satisfyingly imaginative scenes played out before your eyes.  While GRIMM falls on the “Fringe Jr” spectrum of this festival’s offerings there’s nothing  unsophisticated or underdeveloped about this beautifully rich and textured show; in fact it is a complex, deeply stirring and at times even provocative story that serves up a happy ending but not before plumbing the depths of the darkest of human emotions, as all good Grimms’ Fairy Tales have always done.

The story is set in the distant past when good queens reigned but were still able to be thwarted by cruel spells and evil menacing adversaries who meant harm to those with kind hearts.  Two sisters, the good Catherine (Theresa Burns) and her … well … grim sister – the conversely named Angelica (Gina Cucci) – are at odds the minute Catherine is given her sister’s birthright: a necklace that holds the promise to be queen.  Angelica is banished but spends her time away honing her skills at the dark arts; when she returns she successfully switches bodies with Catherine (a la Freaky Friday or Prelude to a Kiss) and kicks the queen off her thrown.    The rest of the tale involves the journey home.  Along the way Catherine births Hansel (Grant Bowen) and Gretel (Sierra Marcks – who drew great laughs from the audience) and has her dealings with the loathsome Rumpelstiltskin (Jake Bridges) who is in cahoots with the now-reigning Angelica.

It’s no difficult feat to take these tried and true fairy tales and interweave them, a forest from this one, an evil queen from that one, and generally a Grimm wicked witch is garden variety so she can jump from story to story. Sondheim built the template for this type of thing with Into The Woods.  So no – it’s not difficult to attempt, the stories braid together as easily as Rapunzel’s long tresses.  Therefore the trick lies not in weaving the tale, but in doing so in a way that will have the audience invested.

Cue music director, composer, and writer Ken Kruper who composed a score so lush, evocative and beautiful that from the first notes of the opening ensemble number “Things Are Looking Awfully Grimm” I was catching my breath.  Each song not only moved the plot along but gave each character a deeper connection to the audience as well as an opportunity to tug a little more at your heartstrings.  The score covered a variety of emotions, from the touching “Let Your Heart Lead” (sung beautifully by Gina Cucci) as a mother’s advice to her children who are about to leave home for the first time without her, to the almost vaudevillian “They’ll Never Know” sung gleefully by the evil queen (at this moment embodied by Burns) and her lackey Rumpelstiltskin.  Yet, while there are a variety of styles, it’s not as if Kruper is haphazardly throwing in an assortment of songs simply to exhibit his musical dexterity – there’s still a common thread throughout the base of the musical that clearly identifies these pieces as part of a whole.

Director Olivia Hartle has imbued the production with lovely flourishes that hearken back to the magic of childhood; scarves waved wildly become a blazing fire, later a long white gauze is pulled through a bicycle wheel only to become a golden gossamer cloth signifying straw turning to gold.  Equally, she teams well with Burns and Cucci who both do a remarkable job embracing both the good as well as the evil with one hundred percent commitment - casting off the vestiges of their previous roles as thoroughly as they do their costumes.  They are both devoted and believable as the dark as well as the light sides of humanity, so when the switch happens it is as if you can see their souls jump from one to the other.  For this to happen in a small theatre is a remarkable feat.

Costumes designed by Taylor Pedane were both reminiscent of a bygone era as well as of a rag-tag bunch of street performers who bring tales to life using what is around them.  All was obviously planned down to the smallest detail, yet appeared to be pulled off effortlessly which  - especially in a festival setting where there is such little time to prepare for sets and costume (let alone for a cast of 12!) – is a fairy tale in and of itself.

I could go on and on about this show, but as its running time is only 50 minutes – and as there is only one more performance – I’ll end as all good tales do.  Let down your hair and let yourself feel like a child again by experiencing Grimm: A New Musical.  It’s an absolute must-see – and I promise if you go you’ll live happily ever after.


GRIMM: A New Musical

BIG Theatre Company
Writer: Ken Kruper, Co-creator: Jon Randhawa
Director: Olivia Hartle, Music Director: Ken Kruper
Familiar stories from the Brothers Grimm are entwined with a new cast of characters and set to a stirring original score. Twin sisters and rivals, Angelica and Catherine, vie for the crown in this haunting tale of good vs. evil.
0h 50m   Local   Queens, New York
FringeJR   Musical
Staycation: Literary Lane   Fantasy Island Excursion
VENUE #18: HERE Mainstage Theater
Sat 11 @ 12  Sun 12 @ 2:15  Thu 16 @ 5:15  Fri 17 @ 4  Wed 22 @ 2

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