Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
A Classic Winter's Tale Comes to Life
Also see Rebecca's review of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
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 circumstancesfather has been bedridden from a head injury for ten years and they haven't enough money for adequate winter clothesthey 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 simplea stage that looks like a frozen canal and four spinning windmills hanging from the ceilingbut 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.