I must admit that being a Stephen Sondheim fan has its perks- as I find I am not alone. I came to see City Theatre’s opening night production of “Into the Woods” with a packed house. I have seen two other productions of this show and knew the songs and words well. What I love about theatre is that with a cast and direction that you can be opened to a whole new way to appreciate the production and enjoy it from beginning to end.
I will not ruin the story for anyone who has not seen it but will offer this little blurb so those who are wondering what this show is about can have an answer. This musical intertwines several popular fairy tales and ties them together into a fascinating story. Kids of all ages will know tales of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and Beanstalk to name most of the stories origins. The basic plot line of all these characters is that they have a wish. I will let the audience discover what the wishes are and how they unfold.
I will comment on the overall production and individual performances. I was first amazed at the creation of a working set that at times has about 20 people on stage at the same time. The props are simple but play so well into the action and the characters that it is spot on. I so enjoyed the costume selection that City Theatre came up with for so many characters. The costume and the make up only helped the performances as the actors themselves could have done their role in street clothes and still been effective. I always wish the actors could come out in costume after the show but having done theatre myself I know that getting out of costume is so welcome.
For a large cast where there are roles of all sizes one has their time on stage to stand out and be followed by another person that equally stands out. For me personally the first character that caught my eye was Little Red Riding Hood. Liz Newchurch brought a hilarious new life to the role with everything from a wide range of facial expressions to method acting of cookie eating talking mixed with a Red Riding Hood walk that was pure gold. Another stand out performer was that of Matthew Burnett. He played both the role of the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince. Matthew has facial looks and a prince walk that bring nothing short of complete focus every time he is on stage. Rapunzel’s prince, Derek Smootz equally commands the role of charming and their duets on stage were some of the best musical highlights of the show for me. Speaking of singers I so enjoyed the songs and hard nose hitting of the Witch played to perfection by Ashley Edwards. I knew Ashley could sing and was so glad she was given a great role and ran away with it. The step mother and step sisters of Cinderella were a trio worth noting. The actresses of Rebecca Stokinger, Kylie Baker and Lacy Prince all were wonderful to see and knew how to make a role look big when they are on stage. There is a bit of interacting that they all do on stage that is priceless. Speaking of Cinderella’s family one cannot pass on the range of acting which goes so beyond just what she is wearing costume wise. Sarah Tufts can transform from meek and downtrodden house worker to a beautiful and frustrated princess. The couple that plays so well off each other are that of the Baker and his wife. R. Michael Clinkcales and Michelle Cheney do nothing short of a comedy routine with such deep heart that you feel for this couple in their adventures of trying to have a family. They seem to be the realistic good glue that holds the story together. Granted that job might be done by the Narrator of the story which in my opinion I have never seen topped by any other production. Gil Austin was able to help move the story along and make things seem to be meant to be happening that way. A first time audience will never know there is any sort of hiccup on stage with actors such as him. Bravo. I so enjoyed the singing antics of Kate Crowley who brought a Rapunzel to stage that you would have to feel both fear and love for at seeing on stage. She has a great excuse for being locked in a tower all day every day – sorry for that one spoiler alert. One of the other characters of the story that brought out a lot of innocence but goodness was that of Jack. Matt Boehm knows how to tug a audience with his acting.
Other performers bring balanced life to this show and be seen for the next four weekends. I highly think that if you are looking for entertainment for the WHOLE family this is a good show for you. I don’t know the running time but for me the evening flew by and I did not even know. The manager will tell you right before the show but I sadly did not pay attention. But that was the only thing I did not pay attention to.