Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

A Classic Winter's Tale Comes to Life
Arden Children's Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's review of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery


Lauren Hirte as Gretel and Brian Ratcliffe
Photo by Mark Garvin
Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates is an uplifting celebration of family and an exhilarating tale of courage and determination. Based on the much loved 1865 novel by Mary Mapes Dodge, the play captures the spirit of the original story while offering a theatrical experience that keeps the whole family on the edge of their seats. Arden Children's Theatre commissioned Laura Eason to write Hans Brinker and it is exciting to have such a fun and inspiring work making its world premiere in Philadelphia this holiday season. A welcome alternative to the perennial productions of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, it seems likely that Hans and his little sister Gretel will be skating onto stages all over the country for many winters to come.

Set on the ice-covered canals of 19th century Holland, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates is the story of Hans and Gretel Brinker. Too poor to buy proper metal skates, the earnest and hardworking Hans carves blades of wood for himself and his little sister. Despite the crudeness of their skates the Brinker children are swift on the ice. Despite the bleakness of their circumstances—father has been bedridden from a head injury for ten years and they haven't enough money for adequate winter clothes—they are hopeful and optimistic. The siblings strive to get help for their ailing father and prove their own worth by winning a local skating contest. First prize is a pair of sparkling silver skates, and only someone with a heart of ice would not get wrapped up in the excitement of the final race.

Lauren Hirte plays the sweetly unflappable Gretel Brinker with earnest charm. Hirte has lovely chemistry with Brian Radcliffe (Hans Brinker). Radcliffe gives an excellent performance throughout, but his evolution over the course of the story is a highlight. Ed Swidey takes on the role of Brinker's long injured father, creating some truly dark moments that are vital to the success of the production. The strong ensemble cast comes together to keep the action fast paced, and the musical interludes featuring the entire cast and musician Jay Ansill are delightful. There are moments where the delivery gets a little too campy and over the top (to appeal to the youthful audience?), but fortunately they are few and far between.

The set appears simple—a stage that looks like a frozen canal and four spinning windmills hanging from the ceiling—but the production has a real sense of wintry magic. Rosemarie E. McKelvey's lush costumes add to that sense as bright and colorful winter coats contrast sharply with the Brinker family's rags.

Seeing the world premiere of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates right here in Philadelphia is a wonderful way to share the spirit of the season. Whit MacLaughlin may have directed the tale of Hans Brinker with children in mind, but it is sure to lift the spirits of everyone lucky enough to experience it.

Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates runs through January 31, 2016, at the Arden Theatre Company at 40 N. 2nd Street in Philadelphia. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 215.922.1122 or at www.ardentheatre.org.

Cast:
Rachel Camp - Dame Brinker/Katrinka Vos
Lauren Hirte - Gretel Brinker
Ciji Prosser - Heidi van Gleck
Brian Ratcliffe - Hans Brinker
Matteo Scammell - Peter von Holp/Vollenhoven
Ed Swidey - Brinker/Announcer
Steven A. Wright - Doctor Boekman/Carl Voost
Jay Ansill - Musician

Artistic Team:
Director -Whit MacLaughlin
Scenic Designer - David Gordon
Costume Designer - Rosemarie E. McKelvey
Lighting Designer - Thom Weaver
Sound Designer - Lindsay Jones


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