THE ART OF COMEDY: Rapunzel, the fairy tale beauty who, locked in a tower by a wicked enchantress, must let down her long hair for anyone to reach her, is a well-known character.
Rapunzel is always beautiful. Her hair – be it described as fair, golden or simply blond – is lengthy and tough enough to be used to climb tower walls.
Rapunzel in the fairy tale published in an early 19th century collection by the Brothers Grimm might not resemble the star of Columbia Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Commedia Rapunzel.”
But her story will be familiar.
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Sam LaFrage, a playwright, director and actor, wrote the script. He was at the helm of last year’s “The Commedia Cinderella,” a production that featured probably the sassiest fairy godmother to ever grace the stage.
“It’s parodies of stories that you know and love,” LaFrage said of his commedia works. “Things like (the fairy godmother), the audience can recognize when you change something.”
Commedia dell’arte is an improvised form of comedic art that originated in the streets of 16th century Italy. While the storytelling has been refined for theaters, the core principles remain the same: Actors playing specific parts perform and react to the audience.
LaFrage, a Camden native and Richland Northeast High School graduate, said “Commedia Rapunzel” is physical and improv based.
“The kids will love the physical comedy,” he said. “There’s a lot to play with.”
The show isn’t only for children to enjoy, as LaFrage has included winks and nudges for adults.
“The adults will get it,” said LaFrage, who namedropped Lindsay Lohan and Jennifer Tilly in an interview. “Trust and believe.”
The production opens at 7 tonight and will be followed by a pizza reception.
LaFrage, who graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Art last year, studied commedia intensively in school. Choosing to work in the genre was a natural progression.
“I have a love of comedy, and this is where comedy started,” he said. “And I just like being funny.”
It took LaFrage a day to write “Commedia Cinderella,” he said. “Rapunzel,” for which he composed original music, took about a month to write.
“As with sequels, you try to outdo the original,” LaFrage said. “When I got the call to write, I knew who my cast would be.
“So I wrote for these people. And I know myself as a performer, so I knew exactly what I was going to play.”
LaFrage will be the clown Arlequino. In commedia, there are traditional stock characters who take on various roles. Elizabeth Stepp will play Rapunzel, as portrayed by Columbine. Rounding out the cast: Beth DeHart and Carolyn Chalfant ( Rosetta as The Witch); Paul Lindley II ( Punkin and The Baker); Bobby Bloom ( Pantone); and Ashlyn Combs (the Zanni).
LaFrage, 24, said his love of theater was fostered by Larry Hembree, currently the managing director of Trustus Theatre. LaFrage was 5 when he met Hembree, who then worked at the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County.
“It’s been great being home,” LaFrage said. “Starting out down here, the theater community is smaller and I get a lot more freedom.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are things you can do in New York that you can’t get away with down there.”
After his stint in Columbia ends in July, LaFrage will return to New York to cast an Off Broadway production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He will direct the show.
“That’s a very big deal for me,” he said.
FAN FAVORITE: Brittaney Hughes, a Columbia resident, is one of three finalists in the “BET Ultimate Fan” contest. She will appear on Monday’s episode of “106 & Park,” a video countdown program. The winner will have the opportunity to present the viewer’s choice award at the BET Awards later this month. Tune in to vote. “106” airs at 6 p.m. on Time Warner Cable channel 61.