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
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