Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
“Careful the wish you make, / Wishes are children. Careful the path they take- / Wishes come true, / Not free.” Stephen Sondheim
“Everybody gets a chance to shine in Into the Woods,” says Stephen Sondheim in a Masterworks Broadway interview, “that’s what makes it perfect for community theater and schools.” Indeed, this musical has become perhaps the most popular of Sondheim’s works not only for its twists on familiar fairy tales, but also because each beloved character DOES get a chance to shine. Garland Civic Theatre has put together a production that gives their cast a chance to do just that!
Into the Woods debuted in San Diego at the Old globe Theatre in 1986 and premiered on Broadway on November 5,1987 wining several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason as The Baker’s Wife), in the same year as Phantom of the Opera. Often produced, including a 1988 US national tour, a 1990 West End production, a 1997 tenth anniversary concert, a 2002 Broadway revival, a 2010 London revival, in 2012 as part of New York City’s outdoor Shakespeare in the Park series, the popular and much-loved musical was released as a movie in 2014.
As every theater junkie surely knows by now, the musical pulls together the plots of several Grimm fairy tales that explore the consequences of the various characters’ wishes and quests. Tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their desire to begin a family, all the characters eventually interact, including the witch who placed a curse on the couple.
In GCT’s production, Aaron Gallagher makes a fine Baker, singing well and giving his character real presence with his focus and obvious understanding of the role. This is especially true in the second act when he gets to show true depth of emotion that comes across as organic and heartfelt. He has a voice to match, and uses it to good advantage, especially in the second act duet with his father. As his wife, Melissa Hight, in spite of being hampered by a frizzy wig that hides much of her face, is also one of the highlights of the show. She has a lovely voice and an innate understanding of the nuances and even humor in the role and nails each beat. She too shines in the second act, bringing real conflicted feelings to the scene with the prince, and evidences real chemistry with Mr. Gallagher making their scenes together some of the best in the show.
Also a standout vocally is Cameron Anthony as Cinderella. Her lovely soprano voice works well for the role and she uses it wisely and effectively. She makes a nice transition from the early, rather cowed Cinderella, to the more self-assured young woman in the later scenes. Unfortunately, she too is hampered by a black, curly wig that tends to hide her face and distract from the audience seeing her reactions and emotional choices. Also unfortunate is the amalgamation of parts that has been put together for the dress she wears to the ball, being neither attractive nor appropriate to the character or moment. In spite of these distractions, she still manages to pull us in and make us care about her character.
The Witch, played by Bridget Lynch, is a featured role that has been played by many famous singing actresses since being created by Bernadette Peters in the original production. She has some of the best numbers in the show, and Ms. Lynch does them justice with her powerful voice and confident presence. After her transition to her younger self, she too is hampered by a bright pink wig and fussy costume that distracts from her strong performance. In spite of this, she is never a less than commanding when on stage.
Chelsea Wolfe (don’t you love it!) is Little Red Riding Hood and has a wonderful time with the role, singing and acting pertly and hitting all the jokes. Perhaps not quite as innocent looking as one might expect, she nevertheless creates a true and fun character. Jack is portrayed by Ethan Armstrong with believable naiveté, full of awkward moves and youthful enthusiasm. He too sings well, even if he seems to be rushing the tempo at times. His scene with Little Red about the objects Jack has stolen from the giant is a delight.
Josh Hensley is the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince and seems to be having great fun in both roles, especially relishing the Wolf’s lascivious encounter with Little Red. He sings strongly and his duet with Jacob Catalano (also vocally strong) is a highlight. He needs to stop illustrating what he is saying and doing quite so much so that his character is more believable. Mr. Catalano, as Rupunzel’s Prince, has less to do, but cuts a nice figure on stage and has good presence.
Conor Poull welcomes us to the familiar stories as The Narrator and later as the Mysterious Stranger. Mr. Poull sometimes seems out of rhythm with the other actors and his narrations and comments occasionally slow the show down, but his final scene with The Baker, as the Baker’s father, is really nice and heartfelt with perceptible emotion and strong connection evident throughout.
Shelby Ramsey, Bridget Lynch and Shannon Ryan are Cinderella’s Stepmother and stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda. They too express lots of evident glee in playing these characters, filling their moments on stage with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. Brandy Nuttall as Jack’s Mother also has comic energy and presence and uses her time on stage effectively. Her frustration with Jack is as evident as her concern and love later in the play. Rapunzel, played by Shannon Ryan, is good at listening and reacting, especially while the Witch is singing “Stay With Me.” She manages to be an effective presence despite seldom being on stage.
Josh Hensley is Cinderella’s Father and the Steward and without much time on stage, he too still manages to impress with his confident bearing and line delivery. Shannon Souddress plays Cinderella’s Mother, Granny and the Giant’s voice and is believable in each role, with a sweet singing voice.
Music Direction and keyboards are under the talents of M. Shane Hurst with additional keyboards by Terri Lucas and percussion by Michael Dooley. They all play from their upstage position, and Mr. Hurst has obviously worked carefully with his singers on Sondheim’s difficult songs. As each character has their big vocal moment, they seem prepared and confident. The balance between singers and musicians is, unfortunately, not settled yet and so the audience has difficulty hearing and understanding some of the lyrics. I anticipate that this problem will be corrected as the run continues.
Light design by Josh Hensley uses lots of intense colors which tend to work in this fairy tale setting. Lighting levels are generally appropriate to the scene and illuminate the action as needed. The spotlights were a little wobbly on occasion or a tad late, but this too, I’m sure will soon be corrected.
Scenery and costumes by Mr. McClaran are, I’m assuming, deliberately designed and chosen to create a “grab bag” effect, as though children had rummaged through trunks of “dress-up” old clothing and scenic elements to put on their fairy tales. Red Riding Hood’s hair is bright red and black and one of the stepsisters has two-toned hair also. Surely this is all a deliberate choice to enhance the playful, childlike approach to the various stories. The set is roughly divided into three areas with a circular metallic gold painted platform center. Some of the forest is realistically painted while other elements are pure fantasy. Columns and a nicely arched bridge with a brightly painted floor complete the environment.
The costumes, as stated, seem to have been pulled and put together at random, with lots of bright red and a super abundance of sequins and sparkly fabrics. This works in a fun way most of the time, but occasionally the actors are overwhelmed by the wigs and excessive ruffles and boas. This is especially true of Cinderella’s ball gown and the apparel choices for the Step Mother and Step Daughters. The witch’s second costume is also distracting.
British accents come and go and I wonder why even try since none of the productions I’ve seen attempted anything but good, clear stage diction. Really strange was an Italian accent for Cinderella’s Stepmother but perhaps that was just for fun. In all, lots of bright colors, sparkles and movement keep the eye engaged and as Director, Mr. McClaran moves his actors through their many entrances and exits neatly and with mostly interesting results.
At three hours, including intermission, the show needs to be tightened and I’m sure will be as the run progresses. Sondheim’s music and Lapine’s witty book are always a joy and you could certainly do worse than spend an evening in these woods with this talented group of performers. GCT’s Into the Woods presents us with lessons to be learned and some profound observations under the silliness and lovely music. Take the time to discover them and you won’t be disappointed.
INTO THE WOODS
Garland Civic Theater
Granville Arts Center
300 North Fifth Street, Garland, TX 75040
Runs through August 15th, 2015
All tickets are $27.00
Discounts are available for KERA members and groups of 10 or more.
Friday, Saturday performances at 8:00pm
Sunday performances (July 26th and August 2nd) at 2:30pm
For tickets and more information go to www.garlandartsboxoffice.com or call 972-205-2790