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Kids can let their hair down with new 'Rapunzel'

In the Grimm's Fairy Tales version of "Rapunzel," the witch-mother, upon discovering Rapunzel has dallied with a young prince, banishes the formerly sheltered girl to the desert and puts out the prince's eyes by chasing him out the window, causin...

In the Grimm's Fairy Tales version of "Rapunzel," the witch-mother, upon discovering Rapunzel has dallied with a young prince, banishes the formerly sheltered girl to the desert and puts out the prince's eyes by chasing him out the window, causing him to land eyes-first on some cruelly serendipitous thorns.

The ending is happy, with Rapunzel's tears of joy healing the eyes of the prince, who stumbles upon her while blindly wandering the desert. And it's a great and rich story -- fodder even for Robert Bly poetry readings a couple of decades back.

But it's not quite tailored to modern-day children and their parents, who often find the sensibilities of fairy tales a lot more shocking than the Disney-produced versions.

However, parents considering the new production of "Rapunzel" at Tugboat Children's Theatre -- a musical -- can rest easy that this version of the story, the libretto written by David Crane and Marta Kauffmann, is a lot more kid-friendly. And that's true even though the two writers are better known for their work writing for the TV series "Friends."

The show still gives new meaning to letting your hair down.

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Jill Hoffman, who's directing the production, says the adaptation is long on values and short on eye-popping thorns. And it's fun for adults, too.

"It's just a wonderful script, wonderful music, so entertaining for adults, too," she said during a break from a rehearsal this week. "I think the adults will like it just as much as the kids, maybe more."

In the Grimm's version, the prince wandering the desert finds not only his {IMG2}lost love but also a set of twins -- their children? In the Tugboat version, the two don't even kiss. Hoffman describes the relationship as "purely on a character basis," with the two young people trying to help each other reach their destiny. "There's no lovey-dovey stuff," she said.

And there are no double entendres, only "wholesome family entertainment."

Ironically, though, while the young couple has been reimagined, Hoffman says the witch's character does hook up romantically with the prince's valet. They do kiss and also dance a tango. That character is considerably redeemed from the fairy tale version, even voluntarily unblinding the prince at the end of the show. There's no serious peril.

"Everybody's healthy and happy at the end of the show," Hoffman said.

Nathan St. Germain, playing his first lead role as the prince, says he's approaching one aspect of the character.

"I'm kind of going for more humor," he said.

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In fact, while he is basing his timing on the response of fellow cast members, that plan sometimes turns back on him. "I have a hard time not laughing myself at certain parts," he said, particularly some of the antics of Penny Conley, playing the other lead as Rapunzel.

Conley, playing the part of a 16-year-old girl "who doesn't know anything but lives in a tower with her mother who's a witch," says the character can't even tell the difference between a carriage and a broom.

And she cracks up her co-star with the song "Me, My Hair and I."

"That's my favorite song in the whole show," Conley said, noting that while many musical numbers stretch her soprano range, this one is right in her power zone. She also enjoys the funny choreography with her long, blond locks.

Her strategy on getting kids to laugh: "Just have fun. As long as you're having fun, they're having fun."

St. Germain, who's never sung in public before, said he's quickly getting used to it and coping with lots of practice. Hoffman says the challenge of finding good singers and actors actually went well, and she was full of praise for her helpful cast and crew.

"I was very fortunate," she said. "I got some wonderful singers for this play."

Hoffman says all the characters are more developed than you will typically find in a fairy tale, and the redeemed witch is no exception. As in the fairy tale, she does get her "daughter" by tricking a family out of its baby with an unusual lure -- succulent, tempting vegetables. In fact, Rapunzel's name is that of a leafy European salad vegetable, also known as rampion. But she also exposes a soft side.

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The prince's valet, played by Jerry Bacon, doesn't even appear in the fairy tale, but he's prominent here, engaging in witty banter with the prince and later emerging as the witch's love interest.

The music was written by Michael Skloff, and the show was originally commissioned and produced by Theatreworks/USA.

The show runs at Renegade Center for the Arts, 404 W. Superior St., Saturdays and Sundays Sept. 6-28. Shows start at 3 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Call 722-6775 for tickets. For more details, visit http://www.renegade

comedy.org.

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