Peterbrough Examiner
Friday, October 10, 2008

'Hungry' whets appetites

It's amazing what a handful of local thespians can do with an old story and a truckload of talent.

Take Public Energy and the Hungry Collective's new musical based on the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. Kate Story's script has gained a new life coupled with Susan Newman's music and Rob Fortin's lyrics.

Aimed at a young audience, "Hungry" has vitality, humour, glitz and glamour. In a word, it's fun.

Hansel and Gretel (Jacob Abrahamse and Caylie Staples) are helpless children in a household where Dad (Jeff Schissler) is too preoccupied with his writing to feed them.

Their plight is observed by three owls who come to their aid.

Mother Owl (Whitney Ross-Barris), filled with zen-like wisdom, allows her fledgling offspring (Haley McGee, Jeremy Lapalme) to assist the children on their journey to the house in the woods that allegedly has lots of candies and sweets to salve their hunger.

Ahh, but we know a Witch (Whitney Ross-Barris) lives there, with a Fraidy Cat (Jeff Schissler) aching to get rid of her.

Added to this melange is a Gingerbread Man (Lapalme) and a Sugar Princess (McGee), and they kick the story into high gear.

Actually, it is Ross-Barris who really heats up the action and chews up the scenery. She sashays, mumbles, rhymes outrageously, enjoying every morsel of performance. Doubling up on the roles leaves no time for the actors to hesitate or warm up.

They launch themselves with such gusto that children of all ages in the audience can't help but be swept along.

Song after song, these performers hold nothing back, obviously relishing every nuance, and under Susan Spicer's confident direction, they produce a show with a professional polish.

Ross-Barris is a fabulous torch singer, and when she lets loose, she holds the audience in her hands. She is well matched by Schissler, McGee and Lapalme.

McGee's take on the Sugar Princess is delightful from beginning to end. She minces, cajoles, sings, teases and blows bubble gum while doing gymnastics, all at the same time.

Keeping up to her antics is her smitten admirer, the agile Lapalme.

And Schissler's energetic cat slithers around the stage upping the ante for everyone around him.

In the second act, the show really hums along, and while Staples and Abrahamse have the difficult job of setting everything up in the first act, they thrive on the fast pace of the second act.

As the action progresses, these young actors become more and more comfortable, and their voices carry effortlessly.

Rob Fortin and Justin Hiscox make up the orchestra, no kidding. They provide a full a soundscape for the action, and their support becomes fundamental to the seamless telling of this well loved story.

Akiva Romer-Segal's designs are colourful and in keeping with the whimsical story line.

All in all, this is a performance not to be missed, for children of all ages, so take the kids or take granny -- they won't be disappointed.

Bea Quarrie is a freelance reviewer for The Examiner.