California State University, Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center will present its first original production, Hansel & Gretel, on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m.
Hansel & Gretel, a musical by two-time Grammy nominee and children’s music enthusiast Justin Roberts, was booked for the VPAC with the community in mind.
“I think it will be mesmerizing for all ages. Whether you’re 5 years old or 65 years old, you’ll find something that resonates with you,” said Roberts, who said the university’s selection of his musical came as a happy surprise. “I’m just thrilled that CSUN chose Hansel & Gretel as their first original production.”
Roberts started making children’s music by accident. While playing for an indie-rock band in the Midwest, he took a job as a preschool teacher where he wrote songs for the children in his class — and they responded well. Roberts released his first record for kids in the early 1990s.
“It came very naturally,” said Roberts, who found he could write in a variety of different genres in children’s music. “There was a silliness to writing kids’ songs, but I realized that getting into that character was really fun. I found it very refreshing.”
Now the president of the Chicago chapter of the Recording Academy, Roberts was at CSUN this month, rehearsing for the musical’s debut. He said he remembered the amazing feeling he had after learning he had been nominated for a Grammy for the first time in 2010, and how surreal it felt to be present for the awards.
According to Roberts, kids have used his songs for major moments in their lives such as bar and bat mitzvahs, and parents have told him that his music has become the soundtrack to their lives.
“As I began performing for families [at concerts] and seeing how it brought them together, you just know you’re really becoming a part of a family’s life,” he said.
Hansel & Gretel will expose the opposing viewpoints of the main characters, which, Roberts said, he hopes will inspire the audience. Those in attendance at the VPAC can expect to see original graphics on a 20-foot screen, various props, colorful sets, relatable characters and a less-scary version than the original, he said.
“It felt like a really natural genre, and it gave me the freedom to write more traditional American musical work in a theatre form,” said Roberts. An important part of the process was writing the story and not knowing where it would end up or what it would ultimately become.
He said that he always has been obsessed with music, and it was essential for him to invest his time in the arts. He advised CSUN students and community members to do the same.
“Make sure you find things that have meaning to your life and do something worthwhile,” said Roberts. “Whatever feels like it hits you in the heart, that’s what you should pursue.”
Roberts expressed his gratitude to CSUN and the VPAC staff, and his excitement for the show.
“I’m really thrilled that people are going to get the chance to hear the music. I’m thrilled that organizations like the VPAC took a risk to allow us to put on this production,” Roberts said. “It’s one of the most beautiful performing arts centers I’ve seen. It’s amazing to have an organization like that putting on my show. It means a lot to me.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the VPAC website.