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Kids, Witches and History

Halloween is a perfect time to escape into a ghastly world of ghouls and witches--and it's a good time to revisit your childhood and let your imagination run rampant.

If you need some help kicking your imagination into gear, you may want to consider checking out Lost, Arizona Onstage Productions' rendition of a popular children's tale.

"I think everyone has been caught off-guard on how genuinely well-written this piece is," said Kevin Johnson, artistic director of Arizona Onstage. "It deserves to be seen by people."

The production of Lost is a musical fable re-telling the story of Hansel and Gretel, with influences from the folklore of the Great Smoky Mountains.

"If you lived in the Tennessee-Kentucky region, you'd know these ghost stories," Johnson said.

Lost tells the story of Hanlon and Gabby, two teenagers who are abandoned by their father and left to the wicked ways of Mamba. Mamba is a witch who harvests the souls of people to keep herself alive and young.

The ghosts in the show represent spirits from Appalachian folklore, such as Ivy, a Salem witch condemned by her father and burned at the stake; Silas, a Confederate soldier shot during the Civil War; Little Wing, a Native American whose starving family leaves him to die; and Mazy, an abused black slave. Because of the graphic nature of these spirits' mortal deaths, the show might not be appropriate for all ages.

"The show itself is a really unique and interesting exploration of a story we think we know well--the story of Hansel and Gretel," Johnson said.

Johnson described the instance of Mamba performing a religious worship ritual during a full moon. The souls of the children she has killed come alive during the worship to show their appreciation to her for allowing them to live--sort of.

"Mamba halfway saved them so they could at least live in this half-live, half-dead state, and they owe everything to this witch," Johnson said.

Hanlon and Gabby then realize what their fate will be if they do not leave the forest--although there are reasons for them to stay.

The production features original lyrics by Kirk Wood Bromley and original musical compositions created by former Tucsonan Jessica Grace Wing. Wing grew up in Tucson and moved to New York, where she met Bromley. Wing died of colon cancer within a week of her 32nd birthday, only days after finishing the final composition of Lost.

Bromley is a well-known playwright who has made a name for himself for his acclaimed verse plays.

"Reviewers were blown away by the high quality and skill of the writing of the piece itself, and not just the story of Jessica's untimely death," Johnson said.

Wing's mother is a doctor in Tucson and is thrilled to know her daughter's work is being produced here, Johnson said. She believes Wing would have been happy to see her creation reborn in her hometown.

"Her mother just kept saying that she had so much to give, and she had a huge future ahead of her," Johnson said. "There were so many other beautiful stories that she should have been able to tell."

Lost opens with a preview on Thursday, Oct. 30, and will run for only seven performances at Zuzi's Theater.

"Our goal is to be able to offer the show as a script to other theater companies to perform in other cities," Johnson said.

Zuzi's Theater was chosen for its unique stage design and its ability to accommodate movement, since the show will feature actors portraying life-size, Japanese-style puppets.

"It has a deep stage, and I wanted the audience to feel like they're exploring the deep, dark forest," Johnson said.

The production of Lost takes a nontraditional approach to a children's tale, but like most tales, it offers a hidden message.

"It's fun, but it's really reflective," Johnson said. "The show is about how to decide where to go in life, and what results when we move either way."

Tickets for a preview performance of Lost at 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30, cost $20. The 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 31, opening-night gala is a benefit (including a dessert buffet with the cast) for the American Cancer Society; tickets cost $40. Regular performances take place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1; 2 and 6 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2; 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 8; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 9. Tickets are $25 for general admission, and $22.50 for students and seniors. Zuzi's Theater is located at 738 N. Fifth Ave. For tickets or more information, visit arizonaonstage.org, or call 270-3332.

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