INTO THE WOODS
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
McKinney Repertory Theatre
Producers: Lisa Miller and Jake Correll
Director: Lisa Martin
Assistant Producer: Catie Blencowe
Music Director: Arian Archer Schiermeyer
Set Design: Lisa Miller and Jake Correll
Lighting Design: Lisa Miller
Stage Manager: Lizzie Farrar
Choreographer: Lorie Clark Groom
Costume Coordinator: Cindy Darling
Sound Engineer: Stephen Anschutz
Lighting Assistant: Catie Blancowe
Light Board: Heather Moffett
Video Operator: Cheryll Shinavar
Conductor: Carlos Chipps
Flute: Marsha Hope
Trumpet: Tom Evans
French Horn: Bill Russell
Violin and Viola: Duane Danielson
Violin: Christina Foster
OrchExtra: Pam Gauthier-Hamer
Narrator: Gary Powers
Cinderella: Alden Bowers
Jack: Phillip Slay
Jack's Mother: Arian Archer Schiermeyer
Baker: Colin Wells
Baker's Wife: Mary Wells
Cinderella's Stepmother: Shaelana Pass
Florinda: Mackenzie Schulien
Lucinda: Sara Kane
Cinderella's Father: Robert Gemaehlich
Little Red Ridinghood: Amanda Edwards
Witch: R. Celeste Brinkman
Cinderella's Mother/Granny/Giant: Laura Powers
Mysterious Man: Dan Slay
Rapunzel: Lela Gannon
Rapunzel's Prince/Wolf: Justin Duncan
Cinderella's Prince: Charlie
Reviewed Performance 8/4/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
A family matter prevented me from attending McKinney Repertory Theatre's production of Into the Woods last weekend when I was originally assigned to review it but the producers kindly invited me to their brush up rehearsal Thursday evening in hopes that the review would be published prior to their closing weekend of shows. Being the only audience member in a theater that seats over 400 was slightly daunting as I knew my facial expressions and body language would be hard to overlook.
So I put on my best poker face and attempted not to squirm in the beautifully-preserved but wickedly uncomfortable wooden seat (Thank you Ms. Martin for locating a couple of very necessary seat cushions). Instead of digressing throughout the review and writing "Remember, this was a brush up REHEARSAL, People" I'll just remind you once more: this was a brush up REHEARSAL, People.
I was told before the curtain rose that the Courtroom Theater at the historic Collin County Courthouse was still to this day used for the occasional courtroom matter, and I couldn't help but wonder how To Kill a Mockingbird would play in this space. Each side of the theater had a mezzanine area that for Into the Woods was utilized as space for the orchestra (house right) and Rapunzel's tower (house left).
The proscenium stage was filled with Louon trees painted bright yellow and black, and the left and right sides of the stage were draped with black velvet which served as a backdrop for the trees. A winding, circular, raked platform was the centerpiece of the set, and it functioned nicely during the portions of the show when multiple cast members were on stage at once. It prevented sight line issues since all of the actors stood on a different level of the rake.
There was also a very large projection screen hung at the center of the stage behind the platform. While the screen did show landscape images here and there as well as a few scenes showing the giant in Act 2, I was surprised the images on the screen weren't transitioned more often.
While I believe it's smart for a production to utilize every inch of available space, this cast entered and exited the theater from so many different points that it became distracting, especially the exit doors at the front of the house ? the doors marked with the bright green "EXIT" signs above them. That slight intrusion of modern-day reality removed me from the action in this fairy tale.
Costume Coordinator Cindy Darling did a nice job compiling outfits that clearly identified these characters, most of whom are iconic players in tales originally written by the Brothers Grimm: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack (of the famed Beanstalk), etc. Cinderella's ball gown was of particular note, as were the royal uniforms worn by Rapunzel's Prince and Cinderella's Prince.
Jack's cow, Milky-White, was not given a credit in the playbill which is unfortunate since much of the action focused on her whereabouts and wellness. Seriously though ? the cow was beautifully crafted, painted, and accessorized, and creatively placed on casters for easier movement. Since the creative team went to the trouble to put casters on Milky-White I was confused as to why Jack and the Baker constantly lifted the unwieldy bovine to get her from place to place.
The six-member orchestra, along with Conductor Carlos Phipps, did a lovely job keeping up with the demanding musical cues often associated with Mr. Sondheim's work. At times the orchestra overpowered the actors but this seemed more related to sound engineering and balancing than to the orchestra itself. While on this subject, the sound was at times perfect and at other times frustrating. Some of the actors' microphones stayed off for entire songs while other times it seemed as if the board operator just missed a cue and the mic would come on mid-sentence/verse.
While the sound was not consistent, the lighting was magnificent. Combined with the few images shown on the projection screen, and particularly during the scene at Granny's house, the lighting effects went the distance toward setting the various moods of the story.
As with much of this production, the performances were hit and miss. The good performances stood out and allowed me to appreciate the individual nature of the characters while the lesser performances fostered a type of apathy to the extent that I wasn't as interested in their contribution to the story. For a truly ensemble piece like Into the Woods I hoped for more consistency amongst the leading players. But insofar as much as is possible, let's focus on the positive.
Cinderella might just be the single-most iconic fairy tale character in history ? haven't all girls (and some grown women) wanted to be Cinderella at some point in their lives? This grown woman wouldn't mind a turn as Cinderella as long as she could sing like Alden Bowers. Forget the prince ? give me the voice! Ms. Bowers was one of the most naturally gifted performers I've seen on stage, and not just because she was beautiful or because her vocal instrument was absolute sunshine. Her physical comedy was right on point, and she deftly revealed the many layers and flavors of this particular Cinderella. I look forward to seeing her in future productions.
Charlie Knight was devilishly funny as Cinderella's Prince. His take on this character was a cross between J. Peterman from Seinfeld and the guy from the Geico commercials ? that kind of smarmy, egomaniacal screwball you may want to slap but can't help but like. His facial expressions and physical gestures were indicative of his character's royal bearing (after all, he was "raised to be charming, not sincere"), and his crisp baritone was a pleasure to hear.
Colin Wells played the Baker, the harried husband who at first only wants a family but then struggles with the reality of family life. The playbill noted that Mr. Wells teaches theater in McKinney, and it made me happy to note that some of our future thespians will be learning to love theater under his direction. Mr. Wells handily interpreted each of his character's internal battles, and he met each of the Baker's challenges with poise.
While not the youngest member of this cast, Phillip Slay was indeed the youngest principal. His portrayal of Jack was endearing and sweet and wholly charming. My favorite element of Mr. Slay's performance was his ability to deliver every line succinctly without rushing. He was methodical and composed, and his young man's voice was exceedingly pleasant.
Amanda Edwards as Little Red Ridinghood lit up the stage with her brilliant, apple-cheeked smile. Little Red provided much of the story's comic relief, and Ms. Edwards met this demand with a cheery, aloof optimism. She skipped everywhere she went, and promoted the task of eating a roll from mindless to majestic. Very well done, young Lady.
R. Celeste Brinkman's performance as the Witch was the most conflicted for me. While dressed in her witch's garb of dark cloak and warty nose Ms. Brinkman was convincingly evil. I also enjoyed the pseudo rap she performed in the opening number. But when she was transformed into her "true" self I was less enthusiastic. The tone of Ms. Brinkman's voice was strong and fluid but her attempts at belting every note left me longing for some dynamic dimension.
With regard to specific points of the show, Act 1 flowed much more strongly than did Act 2. "I Know Things Now", "Giants in the Sky", "Agony" and "On the Steps of the Palace" were favorites whereas most of the songs in Act 2 felt labored - "No One Is Alone" excepted.
This was an earnest company undertaking a giant show, and while the results weren't wholly consistent, many of the individual performances indicated that you shouldn't miss one of their final three performances this weekend.
INTO THE WOODS
McKinney Repertory Theatre
at the Historic Collin County Courthouse
111 North Tennessee Street, McKinney, TX 75069
Runs through August 7th
Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm
Tickets can be purchased online:
or by calling the box office at 214-544-4630.