Review: 'Into the Woods' at Musicals at Richter

Nancy Sasso Janis

"If you know what you want, you go and you find it and you get it." - Baker's Wife

Danbury, CT - Musicals at Richter, Connecticut’s longest running outdoor theatre, presents their musicals on an outdoor stage on the back lawn of the Richter Arts Center next to a golf course in the woods of Danbury. How fitting it is that they have opened their season with a stellar production of James Lapine’s and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’ in this beautiful setting directed by their founding artistic director Bradford Blake.

This is a very strong ensemble cast filled with loads of talent from the area, some newcomers and some MAR veterans. Tracey Marble of Trumbull made her MAR debut to portray the meddlesome and vindictive Witch and her transformation was a memorable one. Nathan Mandracchia of Sherman did very well as the Baker and Carey Van Hollen from Southbury made her debut at MAR as his spunky and determined wife. Betsy Simpson of Wilton sang nicely in the role of Cinderella, a part that she has been rehearsing extensively in her living room since the age of three. Tori Vacca traveled from New Windsor, NY to portray the role of the feisty Little Red Riding Hood because it is one of her very favorite shows. Perfect in every way was Tyler Carey as Jack; this young actor just graduated from Ridgefield HS and thankfully will attend Ithaca College to study Musical Theatre in the fall.  

Patrick Spaulding of New Fairfield, who was so good in the role of Father in ‘Ragtime’ at the Warner, did very well with the featured roles of a Narrator and the Mysterious Man. Bringing the story to life in multiple roles was a team of narrators that included WCSU student Will Armstrong, Cathy Cavender (Cinderella’s mother,) Brian Hinger (Prince’s Steward,) Rob Mayette (Cinderella’s father,) Rachel Salvador and Daisy Stott. Playing Granny and the offstage Giant was Juliana Koziol of Sandy Hook, who has appeared in a show with NewArts every summer since its inception.

Sergio Mandujano of Norwalk, a vocal performance major at WCSU who played Adolpho in ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ was charming not sincere as Cinderella’s Prince; he was joined by Stephen Moores of Brookfield in his MAR debut as Rapunzel’s Prince. Both young men also played big and bad wolves. Beth Bria Salvador of Bethel (Mae Peterson in MAR’s ‘Bye Bye Birdie’) was unrelenting as Cinderella’s ambitious stepmother, while Hartt School student Natalie Harde of Brewster, NY and WCSU sophomore Emma Giorgio from Ridgefield played her self-absorbed stepsisters, Florinda and Lucinda respectively.

Priscilla Squiers of Danbury was comedically spot on as Jack’s long-suffering mother and Cassandra Bielmeier from New Milford rocked the yellow as corn hair required for Rapunzel. This young performer is a graduate of New Milford HS and will attend The Hartt School in the fall.

CT native Daniel Michael Koch lends his talent as musical director and conductor of the fabulous pit orchestra under their white tent. The lush and extensive score sounded full and impressive, despite being played in the woods. Mr. Blake orchestrated the choreography which seemed more extensive than usual, and worked with Jessica Rehaag as scenic artist on the fairy tale set. The use of the stacks of large storybooks was inspired and worked perfectly. The costumes coordinated by Lauren Nicole Sherwood and provided by DB Productions and DivaStar Productions were colorful and nicely executed. The hair of Rapunzel was massive in scope and the princesses sparkled. WCSU senior Victoria Meskill (a Kennedy Center National Award winner for her props and set dressing for ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’) worked her magic with the props for this production.

The MAR website proclaimed that for the first time in their history, they had reached a maximum capacity at a performance of ‘Into the Woods.’ I attended a Sunday performance (when the Friday show was rained out) and the large audience filled the usual seating area on lawn chairs and blankets.

Continuing the theme of Fairy Tale Theater at MAR, join Mother Goose and her group of talented young performers Saturday mornings in July for theater by young people, for young people. Performed by an ensemble of young area actors under the direction of veteran educator and performer Elyse Jasensky of Danbury, these hour-long, interactive adaptations of classic tales include plenty of audience participation, a show-related craft activity, birthday recognitions and a visit with Mother Goose (played by Jasensky.) July 1 is ‘Cinderella, July 8 is ‘The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,’ July 15 is ‘The Dancing Princesses and The Musicians of Brementown’ and July 22 is ‘The Jungle Book.’ Musicals at Richter dedicates the 2017 season to their beloved Father Goose, Frank Jasensky who passed away in December 2016.

In the case of inclement weather, the performance will be held inside the Workspace facility. NOW AT A NEW LOCATION: Workspace Education in Bethel, CT. 16 Trowbridge Drive. Look for the big red barn! Rain or shine, tickets are just $5, available at the door. Bring lawn chairs and blankets (and sunscreen) for outdoor seating.

Pictured: Priscilla Squiers (Jack's Mother), Tyler Carey (Jack), Will Armstrong (Milky White/Narrator), Juliana Koziol (Narrator/Granny/Giant)Photo credit to David Henningsen Photography