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Into the Woods

a Musical
by Stephen Sondheim (songs), James Lapine (book)

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4869

SHOWING : March 10, 2016 - April 17, 2016



American composer Stephen Sondheim cleverly answers the question, “What happens after happily ever after?” in this multiple Tony Award-winning musical, now an Oscar-nominated Disney motion picture.

Director Justin Anderson
Musical Director Ann-Carol Pence
Cinderella’s Mother/Granny/Giant’s V Erin Considine
Little Red Riding Hood Shelli Delgado
Witch Natasha Drena
Rapunzel Caroline Freedlund
Narrator Evan Jones
Cinderella’s Stepmother Kristin Markiton
Baker’s Wife Wendy Melkonian
Jack’s Mother Bernadine Mitchell
Cinderella’s Prince Christopher L. Morgan
Female Swing Kathleen O’Hara
Baker Brandon Odell
Mysterious Man David Parlier
Male Swing Benjamin Sims
Florinda India Sada Tyree
Wolf/Steward Geoff Uterhardt
Jack Brian Walker
Rapunzel’s Prince Brody Wellmaker
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Into the Stacks
by playgoer
Monday, March 14, 2016
Aurora Theatre’s production of "Into the Woods" takes the oft-used concept of using a fairytale book as the major set component and turns it into a full library. Jason Sherwood’s set design creates towering stacks of books on sliding panels that can be retracted to allow a central two-story gallery to rotate. Behind the stacks and gallery are an illuminated pendant that moves side to side and a backdrop that appears to be metal tiles, but that holds a big surprise for the end of the show.

Director Justin Anderson takes this library concept a step further, having his actors perform pre-show activities in street clothes as if they are workers and patrons in a library approaching its closing time. A boy (Evan Jones) is trapped in the library as it closes, and the action of the play occurs as he removes a magical book from the shelves and reads from it. The actors, who moments before were in street clothes, now appear as characters from the fairytales in the book.

Elizabeth Rasmusson’s costumes combine elements of traditional fairytale clothing with more modern fashions. The traditional elements work. The modern touches don’t. Cinderella’s stepmother (Kristin Markiton) and stepsisters (India Sada Tyree, Laura Spears) are dressed in slinky 60’s sheath dresses over which skeletal panniers are draped, while Cinderella (Diany Rodriguez) gets the full fairytale treatment. The Wolf (Googie Uterhardt) gets a biker’s leather outfit and a cigarette, with the fairytale-garbed princes (Brody Wellmaker, Christopher L. Morgan) smoking cigarettes as his backup duo. The modern touches seem totally out of place.

Sarah Turner Sechelski’s choreography consists of mass movement rather than dance steps, and it works quite well. The show doesn’t lend itself choreographically to much other than full-cast numbers. Fine dancer Caroline Arapoglou, cast as Rapunzel, mostly gets to stand nearly motionless in her tower. The Baker (Brandon O’Dell) and his wife (Wendy Melkonian) share a moment of a dance, but "Into the Woods" hardly has the prince’s ball as a centerpiece of the action; instead, we see Cinderella fleeing after each evening of the ball.

Daniel Pope’s sound design has a bit of a heavy hand with effects. There’s an echo effect on some vocals (not just the giantess’), and sheer volume sometimes tends to muddy the sound. Voices are generally well-balanced with the orchestra, but the lyric-heavy songs by Stephen Sondheim are too dense to take in every word. Ann-Carol Pence’s musical direction is excellent as always in terms of vocal performance, but the orchestra disappoints. At the performance I attended, brass bleats and sour strings were heard, albeit in isolated moments.

Ryan Bradburn’s props are effective, with the most notable prop elements (the milky cow and book-based birds) blending well with the set and costume design concepts. Mary Parker’s lighting design relies perhaps too much on shadowy forest effects and spotlights, but makes good use of lighting emanating from a book and bookshelf and from a trap door.

As in any production, the performances are what make or break the show. All are adequate or better. Ms. Arapoglou does very nice work, particularly in her comic post-tower moments. Brian Walker (as Jack) and Bernardine Mitchell (as Jack’s mother) shine, their acting and singing both hitting the mark and adding a little extra. Speaking of a little extra, the "Agony" numbers shared by Messrs. Wellmaker and Morgan are an over-the-top highlight of magnificent singing and play-to-the-rafters comic broadness.

Ms. Rodriguez’s Cinderella is a delight in every way, as is Ms. Melkonian’s Baker’s Wife, particularly in her wry comic delivery. Both have stunningly beautiful voices. Shelli Delgado’s Little Red Riding Hood may not have a voice to equal theirs, but her spirit and verve and vim allow her to capture the character completely. The only performances that disappoint are Mr. Uterhardt as the Wolf, who sounds a bit strained vocally and whose comic sensibility removes all sense of danger from the role, and Natasha Drena as the Witch, whose blasting voice and affected delivery don’t display any nuance whatsoever.

Director Justin Anderson and his creative team have put together a technically inventive production with a lot of visual and vocal beauty. Most effective of all is the framing story, ending with the boy being reunited with his father and singing the ultimate "I wish" of the score. Mr. Jones’ performance as the boy is natural and accomplished, and Mr. O’Dell transforms nicely from the Baker, who approaches fatherhood with a tentative fear of his squalling bundle of a baby son, into the loving and embracing father of the boy. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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