Music and Lyrics by Bobby Becher and Ralph Krumins
Directed by Ashley Mills
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited
Whoever decided to have Rapunzel use her hair to lasso criminals in the Wild West most certainly has the mindset for children’s theatre. It’s the premise of WhatFun! Theatre’s aptly named ‘Rapunzel in the Wild West’ an interactive children’s musical where the audience is encouraged to boo, cheer, and lament, all in the name of family-friendly fun.
Rapunzel is a long-haired lass locked away in her mother’s tower-like-tavern. Although our heroine has dreams to fight bad guys with her lasso-like hair, she’s content to play make-believe with her friends Willy and Sally since her mother seems dead-set on ensuring her fantasies stay, well, fantasies. When the evil Bandit Queen rolls into town, however, it’s up to Rapunzel to live her dreams, beat the baddies, and save her mother’s saloon.
Despite the show’s playfully soft touch, there are some highly admirable themes in WhatFun!’s new show: Rapunzel’s mother (played by Elise Holman) doesn’t keep her daughter cooped up because she’s evil, just overprotective. Rapunzel wants to be a cowboy but her mother would much prefer her to emulate her more ladylike best friend Sally. In the end we learn that, while being genteel is okay for some people, what’s most important is choosing your own way. (And if you happen stop the Bandit Queen in the process, all the better.) In a brilliantly rare subversion of the musical archetype, Rapunzel’s love interest, Willy, sings about how all he wants in life in a family and children. (Boom! Take THAT gender norms!)
Ashley Mills, who plays Rapunzel, is a perfect for children’s theatre. Mills is genuine without harshness and endearing without being hokey. Childlike without being childish Mills plays the kind of character you’d want children to take after, and that’s saying quite a lot.
It’s hard to ‘Boo’ at the loveable villains. The Bandit Queen, played by Jacqueline Wheeler, is boisterous, and manipulative, but admirable in her own headstrong sort of way. She’s closer Molly Shannon’s Mary-Katherine Gallagher than a traditional Black Hat. Of course that’s probably for the best, since the play’s sung through about half the time. Kurt Perry gives a side-splitting performance as the ever-awkward Bart, the Queen’s much-underappreciated sidekick.
Of course it’s not a flawless show. The singing is a bit on the soft side, and I did have one little gripe: Are the Bandit Queen’s fans magical? I mean, she can psychically control people with them, but that might have just been a theatrical convention. Maybe they couldn’t find a rhyme for ‘magic fans’ (in my hands? tragic tans? wedding bands? Just trying to be helpful).
But when kids are literally standing on their seats to get a better view, you know your children’s show is a success. I liked ‘Rapunzel in the Wild West,’ and I know a ten-year-old me would have liked it even more. Bring the kids, and get ready to boo (but only when they tell you, of course!)