INTO THE WOODS
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine
Company of Rowlett Performers
Producer – Donna Covington
Director – Declan Brennan
Musical Director – Bryce Biffle
Stage Manager – Katelyn Bullock
Assistant Stage Manager – Audrey Bullock
Assistant Choreographer – Hannah Smith
Set Designer – Tom Jeffcoat
Set Construction – Tom Jeffcoat, Edgar Hernandez
Costumes – Dallas Costume
Spotlight – Don Covington
Narrator – Richard James
Cinderella – Hannah Smith
Jack – Trace Hughes
Baker – Allen Dean
Baker’s Wife – Jayci Van Cleave
Stepmother – Kristan Kelley
Florinda – Emily Maxwell
Lucinda – Chloe Ridenour
Jack’s Mother – Dina Ridenour
Little Red Ridinghood – Jolie Lambert
Witch – Andi Allen
Cinderella’s Mother – Marissa Pyron
Mysterious Man – Richard James
Wolf – Derrick R. Brown
Rapunzel – Lori Peters
Rapunzel’s Prince – Joshua Peters
Granny – Kyla Hampton
Cinderella’s Prince – Derrick Robert
Steward – Tom Jeffcoat
Giant – Marissa Pyron
Reviewed Performance: 6/2/2019
Reviewed by Carol St George, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Once upon a time, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine got together and mashed up some of the best-known fairy tales into a strangely dark morality tale, exploiting the cliché “Be careful what you wish for” through sophisticated, whimsical, and often gorgeous music. The result was Into the Woods, which premiered on Broadway in 1987 and earned several Tony Awards (including Best Original Score), despite competing with the monster that was Phantom of the Opera.
Since then, the musical has seen several Broadway and London revivals, has been made into a 2014 Disney movie, thankfully without being Disneyfied, and has been a staple of high school and college productions. Sondheim is one of those composers you can count on to please young performers and audiences. Both contingents were represented at Saturday night’s production by the CORP Theatre, staged at Garland’s Plaza Theatre. This despite hail-making thunderstorms. Although the auditorium fell well-short of a full house, those attending made up for it with their audible adoration.
You have to admire the temerity of CORP Theatre to take on this formidable musical. Easy-peezy music is not Sondheim’s style. But for the most part, the cast did their best to rise to the occasion and, with few exceptions, delivered when it mattered.
The plot centers on Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, given a twist by happy endings that fall apart in the second act. All the top-tier characters are here: Cinderella (Hannah Smith), Jack of beanstalk fame (Trace Hughes), Little Red Ridinghood (Jolie Lambert) and the Wolf (Derrick R. Brown), Rapunzel (Lori Peters), and a Witch (Andi Allen). Their stories are connected by the Baker (Allen Dean) and Baker’s Wife (Jayci VanCleave), who encounter these characters on their quest to lift the curse which has rendered them childless. In each scenario, the happy endings take a dark turn halfway through the show as each character’s fulfilled wishes become bitter disappointments, and not everyone survives.
Declan Brennan directed the CORP Theatre players and elicited sincere and committed performances by nearly all. The actors were proficient with Sondheim’s complex, rapid-fire lyrics and mercurial music. Which is critical, because Sondheim’s music was always created to serve the words, which were crafted to serve the characters, who, like real people, are complicated.
The performance was enhanced by a live orchestra of 14 fine musicians, crisply led by Musical Director Bryce Biffle. Occasionally the instruments overpowered the voices, but it was hard to discern whether it was the performance that was unbalanced or the sound system. Unfortunately, inconsistent sound quality marred the performance. I couldn’t help wondering how much better it would have been with that technicality ironed out. The lyrics from two important characters, Jack (Hughes) and the Baker (Dean), often were muffled, especially in the first act. The sound improved by the second act, but at least twice during the show audio feedback sent a jolt through the audience. Perhaps they’ll fix that by next weekend.
Tom Jeffcoat’s set design was perfectly woodsy and well-crafted, complete with Rapunzel’s tower and Jack’s sprouting beanstalk. And the actors moved through the set pieces fluidly.
The vocals were mostly pleasing and well-matched to the characters. The voices of VanCleave, (Baker’s Wife), Smith (Cinderella), Dina Ridenour (Jack’s Mother), and Derrick Robert (Cinderella’s Prince) were especially successful. Into the Woods isn’t filled with pop hits, but two of the songs — “No One is Alone,” sung by Smith, Lambert, Dean, and Hughes, and “Children Will Listen,” sung by Allen and Company, have become pop standards and have been covered by quite a few artists. The singers in Saturday’s performance did a fine job with both.
Smith was charming, witty, and lyrical as Cinderella. Ridenour was warm and convincing as Jack’s Mother. Brown was comically seductive as the Wolf, and VanCleave was a sensitive and sympathetic Baker’s Wife, with consistently lovely singing.
If any character took command of the stage, it was the petite Jolie Lambert as Little Red Ridinghood, a high school sophomore with loads of talent, terrific stage presence, and aspirations to make it to Broadway, which no doubt she could do.
All in all, the company poured their hearts in to this performance, and if the sound at Plaza Theatre can be fine-tuned, they deserve to be heard.
Into the Woods
521 State St., Garland, TX
Runs through June 9, 2019
Tickets at the door or at www.GarlandArtsBoxOffice.com