INTO THE WOODS
Book by James Lapine
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Granbury Theatre Company
Director - Jay Lewis
Asst. Director - Bentleigh Nesbit
Musical Director - Ashley Green
Scenic Designer - Wendy Searcy
Costume Designer - Drenda Lewis
Prop Designer - Gaylene Carpenter
Lighting Designer - Hank Baldree
Sound Designer - Kyle Hoffman
Stage Manager - Whitney Shearon
Asst. Stage Manager - Erika Kisner
Narrator & Mysterious Man - Greg Doss
Cinderella - Jeannie Miller
Jack - Austin Bender
Jack’s Mother - Stephanie Cessna
Baker - Matt Beutner
Baker’s Wife - Mikki Lewis
Cinderella’s Stepmother - Bentleigh Nesbit
Florinda - Grace Tucker
Lucinda - Mary Strauss
Little Red Ridinghood - Berri Harris
Witch - Emily Warwick
Cinderella’s Father - Nathan Early
Cinderella’s Mother & Grandmother - Connie Ingram
Wolf & Steward - Zach Zagrocki
Rapunzel - Cheyenne Shreve
Rapunzel’s Prince - Sam Bullington
Cinderella’s Prince - Riley Henderson
Reviewed Performance: 8/19/2018
Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
A Broadway hit, a community theatre classic, and a major motion picture, Into the Woods is a familiar Sondheim musical known by just about everybody. However, Granbury Theatre Company has done the impossible and created an original experience for theatre goers, despite the widely recognized aspects of such a popular show. From the breathtaking scenic design to the unexpected comedic antics of Austin Bender as Jack, GTC’s production of Into the Woods is an experience you absolutely can’t miss!
The premise of Into the Woods is simple enough: a connection of all your favorite fairytales through an intricate series of plots, adventures, curses, and giant invasions (the use of the word “giant” here is less a size descriptor and more a character descriptor). The Baker & Baker’s Wife need to lift a curse placed on them by the Witch from next door who has hidden away Rapunzel (the Baker’s long lost sister) in a tower in the woods. Also in the woods are Cinderella and her slipper, Red Ridinghood and her hood, Jack (pre- and post-beanstalk), and more. Like I said…simple! Before the show begins, the audience is reminded not to leave at intermission – due to the seemingly complete resolution that occurs at the end of Act 1. In fact, attending a performance of Into the Woods is a bit like attending a double feature – double the climax, double the resolution, and double the fun.
Jay Lewis did a wonderful job directing such an extensive and strong ensemble. In Act 1, he created some incredibly complex moments with such a high number of moving parts, specifically during both “First” and “Second Midnight” numbers; while Act 2 occasionally felt a bit like an afterthought. One of Lewis’ most impressive staging feats, however, were certain moments of foreshadowing. This most prominently occurred in moments between the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella’s Prince (two characters ironically named after their significant other) throughout Act 1.
Musical director, Ashley Green, also did an impeccable job. There was no weak member of this cast, when it came to vocal talent and ability. Everyone was consistently perfect in their tone and diction. There were even a few moments that seemed a little too vocally perfect, specifically in characters that could have maybe focused a bit more on the characterization of their vocals. However, any Sondheim show is an enormous task to take on, and Green did so bravely and successfully!
Matt Beutner and Mikki Lewis played the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, respectively. Their chemistry was extremely sweet and their vocals perfectly mixed. Beutner successfully took on the unenviable task of leading a large cast in a role not necessarily known for its charisma. However, his clear voice and entertaining physicality were both extremely pleasant to witness. And while there wasn’t as much visible change in his character during the song “You’ve Changed” (ironic, considering the title), Beutner’s shift in Act 2 created a beautiful character arc leading up to an extremely moving rendition of “No More.” Similarly, Lewis’ performance of the Baker’s Wife gave her the opportunity to shine both dramatically and comedically. Her phrasing and intonations were spot on, and her solo “Moments in the Woods” was extremely enjoyable.
Austin Bender, as an ironically colossally tall Jack, was so incredibly well done, I may never look at the character the same way again. Bender was able to take a role that came with certain expectations, and completely turn those expectations on their head. He made the character his own, with his comedic physicality and spot on comedic timing. And his performance of “Giants in the Sky” was sung very well, but performed even better. During the song, he was able to tell an entire story through his body language, phrasing, and facial expressions. Bender was acting at all times, and sometimes even more enjoyable to watch when the spotlight wasn’t intentionally on him.
Berri Harris, as Little Red Ridinghood, had a lovely voice and a pleasing countenance, which is not necessarily what one might expect from the role. There were a few scenes that were played a little too sweet, but her feistiness in Act 2 was extremely fun to see. Her song “I Know Things Now” was sung beautifully, and she rounded out the ensemble of characters very well.
Emily Warwick, as the Witch, acted as the token powerhouse performer of the show. While she was a bit difficult to understand in her opening rap, her vocals in following songs were truly astounding. Greg Doss played the Narrator/Mysterious Man. His narrations were spoken clearly and in a good storytelling manner, however there moments where he was obviously struggling to remember certain lines. In a Sondheim show, staying perfectly in sync is vital and, unfortunately, Doss sometimes created a bit of a lag. That said, his singing in “No More” was beautifully done.
Cinderella was played by Jeannine Miller. Her vocals was impeccable and she was a truly beautiful Cinderella. At the performance I attended, she even impressively recovered from an unexpected fall in the middle of a song, without missing a beat (using her character’s reputation for clumsiness to her advantage). However, there were several funny moments that were lost in Miller’s performance, due to an unfortunate lack of comedic timing. Not lacking in comedic timing, however, were princes Sam Bullington and Riley Henderson. Everyone knows “Agony” is why you go to see Into the Woods, and their performances did not disappoint. Bullington and Henderson’s characterizations of pompous princes were each unique and extremely enjoyable. What a joy to be an immediate crowd favorite!
Other notable performances included: Nathan Early as Cinderella’s Father, who took full comedic advantage of every scene his completely expendable character was in; and Stephanie Cessna as Jack’s Mother, who created a hilarious walk and physicality that perfectly matched the eccentric woman she was portraying.
The scenic design, however, was the true star of this production – as is every set designed by the extraordinarily talented Wendy Searcy. Her flying scenic cutouts made for a beautifully immersive and interactive set that made you feel as though you were inside of a storybook. A massive tree was draped across stage right, built with extensive amounts of butcher paper, perfectly shaped, and with hidden purple flowers. Searcy’s ability to make beautiful pieces of art that actors can interact with and use in efficient and clever ways is truly astounding. I could go on and on, but I must leave you with a few elements of surprise and intrigue!
Drenda Lewis mixed patterns and colors brilliantly in her costume designs. I loved the excessive amounts of layers in every costume. Each character’s wardrobe was chosen to perfectly accentuate their characteristics and made them identifiable as the well-known storybook characters they were meant to portray. However, none of the costumes were too on the nose. Lewis paid homage to the original styles expected, while still making each costume look original and exciting.
The magical lighting effects, designed by Hank Baldree, were truly gorgeous! The forest and tree gobos made for an immersive experience, both on and offstage. The layers in the scenic backdrops were perfectly accentuated by the cascading ombré effect of the lighting gels. There were a few moments in the show that could have used an even more dramatic lighting effect, specifically the Witch’s transformation. But overall, the lighting left very little to be desired.
While going to see yet another production of Into the Woods might initially feel like a chore, you would be wrong to miss out on this specific production. How could you say no to exquisite designs, perfect vocals, and incredible talent? Support local theatre and step into this visually stunning storybook extravaganza, which can only be experienced at Granbury Theatre Company’s Into the Woods.
INTO THE WOODS
Granbury Theatre Company
133 East Pearl Street
Granbury, TX 76048
Plays through September 9th.
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm.
Tickets range from $25-35.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to granburytheatrecompany.org or call their box office at 817.579.0952.