Monday, April 20, 2015

Grimm!, or Who's Afraid of the Big, Dancing Wolf?


Last year, while in Berlin, I went to see the musical produced by the UDK musical-theatre school and its graduating students. I was really impressed, not only by the standard of the performance, but by the fact that they performed a fine new musical, written especially for them by the well-known team of Zaufke and Lund. A grand challenge, requiring the young people to put up original performances, and not you-tubed imitations. And a challenge well met.

So, when I saw that this year’s graduates were to perform another new Zaufke-Lund piece, I booked in. With difficulty. The whole run was sold out, with a waiting list for returns and people standing outside with placards ‘Tickets wanted’. For a student show!

This year’s show was significantly unlike the earlier one. Whereas Schwestern im Geiste was a largely serious piece, Grimm! is anything but. Oh, sure, it has its little message of social and sexual tolerance to purvey, but first and foremost it is a grand old fairytale burlesque, brimming with fun and deconstructed Grimm tales, and decorated by a score of catchy and jokey music with references to everything from ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf’ and the Disney soundtracks to the Queen of the Night’s Vengeance aria or Der Rosenkavalier. A feast for young folk to get their teeth (grrrr) into.

A cast of eight represented a spunky Red Riding Hood (Devi-Ananda Dahm) with a distinct resemblance to Belle of Beauty and the Beast and her ‘beast’, the wolf (Jan-Philipp Rekeszus), the three little pigs (Fabian-Joubert Gallmeister, Feline Zimmermann, Dennis Hupka) – the smart, the fat and the dumb one – flighty Madame Goat (Katharina Beatrice Hierl) and her fabled goatlings, the village elder, Sultan the hound (Dennis Weissert) and his rednecked son (Anthony Curtis Kirby), plus the other denizens of the wild, wild wood: the beturbanned owl (Sophia Euskirchen) and the spiky wild pig (Kiara Brunken). Mix, stir, deconstruct, turn the story and the characters upside down and the wolf turns out to be a nice chap, the fat pig is slim … as the tale of Town versus Wild Wood winds to its happy ending amidst a shower of song and dance.

The cast were, each and every one of them splendidly skilled, across the board, in song, dance and comedy. To single anyone out would be invidious. Alas, with my poor German I missed the subtleties in the text (and the audience laughter told me there were lots) but I was agreeably surprised at how much I did catch, thanks to excellent diction and delivery and a slightly forceful sound system. However, I did not miss the subtleties in the direction, the dancing and most especially the music and singing. I enjoyed the frank burlesque numbers the best: one or two were a little near the real thing (eg the wolf’s Wildhorny solo and Red Riding Hood’s reply) in writing or delivery, but that almost always happens with parody. It’s a thin line. My utterly favourite musical moment of the night was the mad, waltzing love-duet between the wildwood pig and the town pig, ending with the two having a lovely wallow together (‘Schwein gehabt’). And there were plenty other moments of delightful fun, music and dancing to fill more than 2 hours of playing time, ending with the littlest pig planting a luscious kiss on the big, good wolf’s lips! The audience went crazy.

Grand six-piece band (sounded like many more, and they must have been tripling instruments!), lively direction – and, for the second year in a row a marvellous, yet simple, stage setting by Ulrike Reinhard. In the foreground, the letters D.O.R.F in blocks of white, at the back W.A.L.D in black. And never the twain shall meet. Without a word being said, the situation is set. And then Little Red Riding Hood slips into the wild, wild wood and things begin to change.

I have a feeling that Grimm! will be played a fair bit beyond the Neuk├Âllner Opera and UDK. In fact, the Opera House in Graz has already got off the mark, and to judge by its posters is aiming at a ‘family’ audience (note the difference in the length of Red Riding Hood’s skirt). And why not? Kids will probably miss as many ‘subtleties’ as I did: and have just as good a time as I did!

Bravo to all concerned!

PS Note to students. If you aspire to above the title, in-lights billing, long and three word names can be costly.

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