Sunday, October 12, 2008

Into the Woods

'INTO THE WOODS' delights at Great Lakes Theater Festival

Have you ever asked yourself what happens following the “and they lived happily ever after” at the conclusion of most fairy tales? Do you think everything is rosy for the prince and his beloved, or for Jack and his mother after they get the hen that lays the golden eggs? Well, after watching ‘INTO THE WOODS’ at Great Lakes Theatre Festival, you might change your mind.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, which was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT, intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales in the first act and then explores the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests in the second act. The main characters are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel,” and “Cinderella,” tied together by a story involving a Baker and his wife and their quest for a family.

‘INTO THE WOODS’ premiered on Broadway in 1987. Bernadette Peters' portrayed the Witch, and Joanna Gleason was the Baker's Wife. It won Tony Awards for Best Score, and Best Book in a year dominated by ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.’

This is one of Sondheim’s most beautiful and accessible scores. It includes the poignant “No More,” “No One is Alone,’ and “Children Will Listen.” The music lingers in your mind long after the production.

As proven by Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s ‘MACBETH,’ which opened last week and now ‘INTO THE WOODS,’ GLTF is on a roll. It might be their new refurbished home in the beautiful Hanna Theatre, or it may be a change in attitude; but, whatever it is…audiences are in for a treat.

Director Victoria Bussert and choreographer Martin Cespedes create ever-involving stage pictures, which are framed by Scenic Designer Jeff Herman’s creative set. (Be sure to look for the faces and figures cleverly interwoven into the trees, which overlook the happenings.) Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, Norman Coates lighting and Stan Kozak’s sound design help complete the illusion.

Musical Director John Jay Espino and his well-tuned orchestra generally do a good job of backing up rather than drowning out the singers.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Jodi Dominick sings well and creates the right empathy as the Baker’s wife. Tom Ford, he of sad and mobile face, is excellent as the Baker. Jessica L. Cope has a compelling singing voice and creates a Witch who is delightfully witchy. Derrick Cobey makes for a great wolf, but overacts and postures too much as Cinderella’s Prince. Maryann Nagel is a fine fuss-budget as Jack’s mother. Tim Try is perfectly nerdy as Jack. Mark Moritz does a nice job of transitioning between being the Narrator and the Mysterious Man. Emily Krieger creates the right image as Cinderella, but is often difficult to hear during her songs.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’s ‘INTO THE WOODS’ is a delightful production which entertains completely. It’s a go see!