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INTO THE WOODS INTO THE WOODS
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Firehouse Theatre

Director – Jason Leyva
Musical Director – Kelly Pfaffenberger
Stage Manager – Branson White
Choreographer – Jennifer Leyva
Costume and Wig Designer – Nita Cadenhead
Set Designer – Jason Leyva
Lighting Designer – Branson White


CAST (at reviewed performance)
Narrator – David Swanner
Cinderella – Bethany Lorentzen
Jack – Joshua Hahlen
Milky White – Jennings Humphries
Jack's Mother – Brigitte Goldman
Baker – John Pfaffenberger
Baker's Wife – Elisa Danielle James
Cinderella's Stepmother – Lucia Welch
Florinda – Nicole Neely
Lucinda – Heather Sturdevant
Cinderella's Father – Derek Lorin
Little Red Riding Hood – Sadie Leyva
Witch – Christine Chambers
Cinderella's Mother/Granny/Giant – Amy Cave
Mysterious Man – Pat Watson
Wolf/Cinderella's Prince – Christian Genco
Rapunzel – Mary Riedenour
Rapunzel's Prince – Jacob Catalano
Steward – Ryan Nelson
Snow White – Elisa Genco
Sleeping Beauty – Cabie Lamb

Photo Credit: Pendleton Photography

INTO THE WOODSINTO THE WOODSINTO THE WOODSINTO THE WOODSINTO THE WOODSINTO THE WOODS






Reviewed Performance 4/18/2015

Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

“Moments in the woods” is a good theme for Firehouse Theatre's production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. Like the stirring rendition of “No One Is Alone” the musical has episodes of brilliance. However, many technical issues hold it back from being a great show.

The set is wonderfully designed with just a couple questionable pieces. Cloths covering large archways, declaring the story within, greet the audience as they enter. The actors pull down the sheets as they are introduced by the narrator, making for a great opening appearance. However, Rapunzel's tower is bothersome. It is constructed of a decorated staircase leading to a platform and not much else. There isn't even a backstage entrance so Rapunzel can appear on the platform. Many times she is seen marching up the stairs into position. The witch still “struggles” to get to the top of the tower but if it was so easy for Rapunzel to do it, why does she bother? Several times the two go up and down the stairs with ease. A couple of easy-to-roll ramps complete the set. In the kingdom they face downstage and are then moved together to form a hill in the woods. This presents a good and helpful method of distinguishing locations.

Costumes for Into the Woods are the number one technical highlight of the show. Nita Cadenhead's designs are perfect for establishing characters and adding color to a mute setting. Red Riding Hood in her red checkerboard jumper and heavy black boots is a fun interpretation of the character. Most interesting is the wolf costume. I did not recognize Christian Genco as both the wolf and the prince. While not as covering as the famous Broadway costume from 1991, it is more reminiscent of Johnny Depp's in the 2014 movie. However the top hat, ears, body and makeup combine beautifully to create an effective wolf character that differentiates the actor completely from his other role.

A special note should be made about the fun Milky White costume incorporating arm stilts so a single actor can walk on all fours much more comfortably. Also, having a human in a cow costume allows for far greater opportunities in directing than the standard statue. Milky White can move her head and listen or hang her head in sadness and, in one hilarious moment, stand on two legs and run away.

Lighting is sadly disappointing. I'm not sure if the problem lies in the theater not having enough instruments or something else, but there are many unintended shadows in the production. Too often actors are not fully lit, leaving their faces in shadow. There is some good gobo use for creating leaf patterns on the floor however.

Sound is another issue I hope Firehouse Theatre fixes in the near future. Many times mics are not working or popping throughout the show, and the sound levels are not mixed well, sometimes drowning out actors’ voices.

Choreography is bland and often disorderly. “Agony”, sung by the princes, has humorous moments of one-upmanship but Jacob Catalano’s performance shows he is unsure of his movements or just doesn't know how to make them look natural. Also, “It Takes Two” doesn't do much to revolutionize the relationship between the Baker and his wife. There are moments of merry swinging and spinning but the movements tend toward the mechanical and lifeless.

Musical Director Kelly Pfaffenberger has the cast fantastically prepared not only for the complex rhythms and rounds and the tight harmonies of a Sondheim musical but for knowing their place in a recorded musical accompaniment. Sometimes the actors get ahead of the lengthy music lead in or underscore and leave an awkward moment of silence, waiting for the music to catch up. They all know the exact place to come in, however, and that in itself is a feat.

Sadie Leyva, as Little Red Riding Hood, has the spunky attitude to pull off the character. However, she does have a problem with breath support. Several times in the opening her words are lost in breathy utterances. However, her interactions with the other characters are fun. Ms. Leyva has a knack for broad comedy and, with maturity, will certainly develop into a finely nuanced performer.

Joshua Hahlen is a terrific Jack. He fearlessly leans over the stage, grasping a thin rope to prevent him from falling, while still able to convincingly be dragged into a childish argument with Sadie Leyva. The audience can wholeheartedly get behind his love for his friend, Milky White, which makes his pouting at the top of Act 2 more believable.

Bethany Lorentzen shines as Cinderella. Not afraid to do a somersault in a ball gown and character shoes, Lorentzen has an incredible voice that brings Cinderella to life. Her rendition of “On the Steps of the Palace” is clear and beautiful.

The Baker and the Baker’s wife, John Pfaffenberger and Elisa Danielle James, make a good couple and play off each other well. “It Takes Two,” while not visually stunning, is a fun performance that the two share. Pfaffenberger shows great heart and empathy in his loving performance during “No More” and James is lively and passionate in “Any Moment” and “Moments in the Woods.”

Christine Chambers is a fine witch with a lovely voice. However, her performance style is more presentational than it is storytelling. Too often, she is focusing on getting the correct sound out than using her body movements and expressions to convey the message of the song. “Stay with Me”, along with Rapunzel, is very touching and sentimental, ending with the two cuddling in a true mother/daughter moment.

We all know Rapunzel is the neglected character of Into the Woods in more ways than the obvious. Mary Riedenour breathes life into the character and has a great voice to assist her. Along with her voice is a powerful scream that sometimes shocks the audience in its shrillness and volume. Her one moment to tell off the witch, however, is dishearteningly glossed over, not making the impact it could, especially after her performance of “Stay with Me” with Christine Chambers.

Christian Genco and Jacob Catalano make a hammy pair of princes, and they work well in their parts. As stated before, Catalano has difficulty in his movements, and while Genco easily outshines him in this regard, overall the two put on a fine performance. Genco's subtext work in “Any Moment” is above par. As Cinderella’s Prince, he truly shows his character’s shallow side outside the words of the song.

Pat Watson, as the mysterious man, is indeed mysterious and jolly. He appears and obviously enjoys the part without blatantly trying to break the actors’ concentration. Also, he and John Pfaffenberger, in “No More”, mirror each other well, demonstrating the connection between father and son.

I could go on and on about every actor and each of Sondheim’s character, as he takes great care to give all of them something special. Instead, I recommend supporting Firehouse Theatre and seeing Into the Woods, as it’s a production full of fun moments and worth seeing. But maybe go in the evening when it might be cooler. And, if you happen to have a spare air conditioning unit to donate to them I'm sure it would be appreciated.




INTO THE WOODS

Firehouse Theatre
2535 Valley View Lane
Farmers Branch, TX 75234

Runs through May 3rd

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances at 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday performances at 2:30 pm

Tickets are $20.00, $18.00 for seniors (60+) and $16.00 for students.
For Saturday matinees, tickets are $10.00, $9.00 for seniors, and $8.00 for students.

For tickets and information, go to http://thefirehousetheatre.com, or call their box office at (972) 620-3747.