”Singapore got jungle? Real one or fake one like the Gardens by the Bay?” Vilma the Maid (Siti Khalijah) questions in broken English.

Take 1812 German fairytale Hansel and Gretel, spice it up with a ton of local flavour (and food) and you get W!LD RICE’s 9th edition of its annual must-see Christmas pantomime, which has included the popular Cinderel-Lah! (2010) and Aladdin (2011).

Dim Sum Dolly and celebrated actress Pam Oei makes her professional directorial debut with this play, which follows the adventures of a pair of 9-year-old twins, Hansel (Dwayne Tan) and Gretel (Denise Tan) with somewhat clashing personalities.

Hansel is a spontaneous and mildly ‘himbotic’ fashion junkie, who claims he only judges people when it comes to “fashion, presentation and hairstyle”. Going similarly against gender stereotypes, Gretel, is more of a rational thinker.

Their adventure begins when their new pop-star-wannabe stepmother Cassandra (Vernetta Lopez) abandons the brother and sister team in the jungles of Mandai to fend for themselves while their henpecked father Steven (Dwayne Lau) stays by her side, blinded by love.

While exploring the dark, foresty jungle, the sibling pair then stumble upon a house made out of not gingerbread but tasty local delights like kueh lapis (a layered cake) and kaya (coconut jam) toast. Obviously too young to be sceptical about such a mysterious house, the hungry twins start nibbling on the house’s windows and walls. They then get invited in by an evil yet adorable witch known as the Chef (Sebastian Tan) and her (yes, her) assistant, Nicki Minah (Siti Khalijah).

While the general outline may sound very similar to the original Hansel and Gretel, that’s only superficial. For something as sober and moralistic as the original tale to be a true blue W!LD RICE comedy, you know the story must be filled with politically incorrect jokes poking fun at popular Singaporean controversies and events.

The script, written by the theatre company’s multiple-award-winning resident playwright Alfian Sa’at, who also wrote the highly successful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (2008) and Beauty & the Beast(2009), is set to keep you laughing throughout the 150-minute musical. There are some clever pokes at curry and neighbours, $50 weddings (remember Amy Cheong?) and foreign talents. There was even a joke on the SMRT bus driver strikes (which happened on November 26, 2012) on the show night of the 27th. (We watched it twice!)

The experience was made even better by the phenomenal performances. Their experience in theatre and comedy was evident, with each and every one of them bringing out the best in every character. They were constantly interacting with the audience to keep us engaged and had hilarious reactions to our answers.

The music and choreography by Joel Nah and Rotjana Patikarapong didn’t disappoint either. Ranging from ballets to high-energy pop tunes, the original songs had comedic lyrics  that will tickle you.  They were so catchy that we found ourselves singing along to the choruses.

Songs like the foot-tapping “Clean Your Own Windows” about maids being unwilling to clean the windows of high-rise apartments in the wake of many an accidental death drew chuckles while the haunting “All That Glitters” about lost love tugged at our heartstrings. We even saw a bit of the popular Gangnam Style dance during “The Boy Is Mine”.

There were also appearances from the kids at FIRST STAGE!, a project by W!LD RICE that nurtures young talents from 4 to 12, which got ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s from the audience.

Props to the costume design by Moe Kasim. Kasim made Hansel wear suspenders while Gretel donned a red polka dotted pinafore, making them look like the perfect little 9-year-old twins, despite us knowing that they’re in their mid 30s. Cassandra had the wackiest and silliest “fashionable” outfits, Nicki Minah had a donut dress and the Chef’s flamboyant checkered apron amplified her batty, moonstruck personality 10-fold.

When W!LD RICE promised that the musical would be “deliciously hilarious”, they weren’t kidding. We (and our tummies) were pleasantly surprised as we watched the twins take yummy goodies like pandan cakes, kueh lapis and chocolates off the stage set and, best of all, give them to the audience. If you didn’t get front row seats, don’t fret because Gretel will personally walk to the back to give you some of the mouth-watering delights.

When it came to the final song “A Very Special Day” performed by the whole cast, we couldn’t help but wish it didn’t end so quickly. This cheery, food-filled pantomime is set to put you into Christmas mood a little too early, but who can complain?

Hansel & Gretel is on at the Drama Centre Theatre till Dec 15. Tickets are available from $44 (excl. booking fee) at SISTIC.

 All photos courtesy of Albert Lim KS and W!LD RICE.