By Joseph Pratt
I recently had the pleasure of making the opening night of JAX Theatre’s “Hansel and Gretel: The Musical.” This was the third written, produced and directed Jordan Nickles original that I’ve seen and I was pleased with the growth.
The largest growth was plot. While I loved the plots of past shows, they were a bit too much to cover in an hour and a half performance. I would certainly watch a movie based on his scripts, or read a novel or comic, but it was hard to translate onto the stage without some things becoming jumbled.
This problem has definitely been addressed in “Hansel and Gretel.” The plot line is very theatrical and well illustrated, while also retaining most of Nickles’s flavor for the complicated and Gothic. It was wrapped very nicely in a bow and even brought a lighthearted and actually quite cute ending, despite eight witches being burnt alive. The music written into the show was a very, very nice touch as well.
Another major advancement was in their tech department.
Their previous sound guy usually worked live bands and did not have enough experience in theatre to be running the tech properly.
Steve Climer took over for sound and lights in this show. I noticed only a few minor sound flaws that are bound to happen when actors get a little too close. Sound has been an issue with JAX and to see this cleared up is fantastic.
With the stage being built for concerts, lighting has often been a hurdle, but the introduction of several small satellite lights made a major difference in the places Nickles could spot. They had a slightly distracting glow and an actor kicked one at one point, but they are definitely a good start. The only lighting issue that bothered me was the blinding effect the upstage lights gave after a scene change. They were angled toward the audience and left sight impossible the first 20 seconds of a scene.
A major issue I had concerning the entire show was with set. I absolutely loved each set that Jerod Walker and Nickles put together, but it made for intolerable scene changes and cramped spaces.
Nickles has a very picky and exquisite taste that I really enjoy. I know when I see one of his shows I am in for a visual treat. His set would be perfect on a stage like the Vern Riffe Center, or a smaller proscenium like Portsmouth Little Theatre. I do applaud them for finding a way to utilize dead space by building giant platforms in the air of stage left and right though.
As much as I adored the sets, I feel like I’d rather see a smaller version, if it meant scene changes that didn’t take longer than three minutes. This was particularly unbearable when they rotate between two large scenes, for very short bursts of time, making blackout scene changes seem more frequent than performance. Nickles needs to think of the limitations in a venue when he plans a set, because the lengths of scene changes are unacceptable. Sadly, the stage at TG Entertainment isn’t equipped well enough to handle the grandeur sets and taste of Nickles.
I don’t feel like acting is ever an issue with a JAX production, but there was more to this show and I’m left wondering if Nickles is to thank for that. This particular show had smaller stage time for Nickles and I feel like it left him with more time to devote to production values and directing the cast, because it showed.
While many of the actors were standout, the few I’d like to mention include Sarah Simmons and Eliza Eaches, for their lovely vocals; Bailey Martin, for her perfect acting and staying into character; Emily Brewer, for stealing more laughs than any other actor; Joanna Glispie, for an outstanding performance that lasted the whole show, despite only being in the opening scenes; and Sami Matthews for her wonderful dancing.
The only problems I had with acting were minor. Taylor Barney, as the father, wasn’t doing much acting in his scenes, but instead shouted his lines like a quarterback yelling plays. Bugs Reinhardt, as Van Helsing, was also a major distraction, to a point that I was actually rooting for the witches in the battle of good and evil, hoping they would just kill him off already.
All eight Grunewald witches deserve a mention. The show’s title should honestly be changed to “The Grunewald Witches,” because they absolutely captivated and stole the audience. Scenes with the eight paralleling personalities were definitely the high lights of the show.
Eva Martin played the role of the antagonist and absolutely stole the show from everyone. No set designer, choreographer, actor or costumer played such a vital role in this show’s life. When I say Martin gave the audience one of the most legitimate and perfect performances I have seen in community theatre, I mean it wholeheartedly. I am very pleased with Nickles for allowing her the freedom of creating such a perfect character that I will probably remember for years and years to come. I have nothing but highly earned respect for Martin after this performance and hope it opens doors to larger roles in the future, because she proved that she can own a show with ease.
The only major thing I believe the company should look at is the marketing of their shows being G-rated and innocent. While Nickles keeps the shows clean in most aspects, the Gothic darkness, deaths and murder make me question them treating their “G-rated entertainment” as the cornerstone of their establishment. I especially call this into question when I look at what the company allows and doesn’t. The company attempted to cut a dialogue referencing a homosexual character in the plot of “Steel Magnolias,” in order to make it “G-rated,” but continue to allow stabbing, stomping, dehumanizing and more in the many stories told by Nickles. Not that his content is a problem, I just think they should drop their fluffy and G-rated visage.
Overall, I highly recommend people seeing this show. It is quirky, cute and very entertaining. I’ve enjoyed watching this young theatre company grow and I feel like “Hansel and Gretel” is a sign that they’ve been following the breadcrumbs to perfecting their niche in the theatre world. I look forward to seeing what they create and where they go in the future.
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.