The Placer Performance Calendar

 

Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Into the Woods
Organization Stand Out Talent
Date(s) of show June 17-July 3, 2016
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review Letís be honest. When I first saw Into the Woods a number of years ago, I decided that I didnít like the show. Now Iíve seen 4 community theatre productions ó plus the movie ó and it has slowly grown on me. After last nightís opening of Stand Out Talentís production, I think Iím ready to say that I really like Stephen Sondheimís masterpiece. With the audience surrounding the Tower Theatreís main stage on three sides, you canít do a lot of set-building, and the music was recorded, so the success of a show like this was going to hang on the quality of the directing, acting and singing ó and thatís where it delivered.

Fundamental to what impressed me about this show was the casting: each actor seemed so well suited to their part, and all the voices were so strong that I canít comment on them individually. After what seemed like a little stiffness in the first few minutes of opening night, I sensed the actors relaxing a bit and beginning to really inhabit their role. It seemed to me that the way this show is written gave the actors more than the usual opportunity to put their personal stamp on a character, and so as the show went on, good acting became great acting. In the intimate space of the Tower Theatre, the subtleties of facial expression and body language are so much more apparent, and the closer I watched these people, the more they persuaded me that this was all really happening.

Beyond the realism, there was the comedy. I think that sometimes Iíve seen this show played too seriously. This production, by contrast, took advantage of every comic opportunity, and there were lots of extra touches for comic effect: escaping her prince Cinderella took a seat in the audience, the two princes enter ďridingĒ stick horses, etc. ó and I wish I had made notes about more of these comedic touches. Suffice it to say, I got a lot more laughs out of this production of Into the Woods than any other Iíve seen.

These clever bits of comedy by director Jennifer Bortz (no doubt with help from cast members) were part of the showís fun, but so much more came from the how the actors portrayed their characters. Dennis Curry was a perfect Mysterious Man, always intensely animated. Helen Ventura gave us over-the-top witchery. Fourteen-year-old Clarity Grace played Little Red as an edgy teenager, and along with showing a surprising acting range, she provided the audience with some good laughs. Nick Lunetta was a wonderfully sinister wolf, complete with blood-curdling howl, and then played Cinderellaís Prince with panache, joining with Rapunzelís Prince (Kevin Borcz) for delightful moments of overacted ďagony.Ē And I mean overacting as a good thing. I saw it again in Jonah Petty as the boisterous Stepmother. It was an hour into the show before I realized the stepmother was a man ó he was that convincing ó and he pushed that part (and the fake breasts) as far as they would go.

The other characters seemed less exaggerated, but were expertly played. Sean Smith is a Southern California-based professional actor who lent his considerable talents to the role of the Baker. He and Jennifer Jeanelle, as the Bakerís Wife, played off each other beautifully, bringing out the tension in their complex relationship. I also loved the way Savanna Harrison portrayed the ambivalence in her feelings about the Prince, along with a couple of spectacular, running baseball-style slides ó in high heels! The step-sisters, Rapunzel, and other characters each had their moment to prove that this show was, indeed, well cast. Cory Coppin as Jack was appropriately mild-mannered and, well, simple, but his shining moments came with his singing, as was the case with Judith Boreham, who played his mother.

In fact, I was constantly impressed with the singing of the entire cast. This 3-hour show has to be a difficult one to perform. Sondheimís songs are not the kind of music you sing in the shower or hum as youíre making a sandwich ó at least thatís not how I find them. Theyíre hard to sing ó yet I didnít notice flatting or failing to sync with the recorded soundtrack. Besides the notes, the song lyrics tend to be very wordy, and I have to hand it to these singers for making the clever, witty lyrics (and dialog) so easily understood. But the main thing about the songs in this show is that they donít sing themselves: they have to be acted ó skillfully ó and thatís what I saw so consistently in one number after another.

The bottom line for me in this production of Into the Woods is that I found myself appreciating the show in new ways. The comedy was more enjoyable, the clever dialog and lyrics more satisfying, and the portrayal of each character more believable and entertaining. Maybe youíve seen the show more than once, too. Go see it again. I bet youíll find Stand Out Talentís production full of new delights.

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