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Into The Woods - Oregon Shakespeare Fest

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inception
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Into The Woods - Oregon Shakespeare Fest

With 28 piece orchestra! I can't wait!
Oregon Daily Courier Review

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icecreambenjamin
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joined:6/7/14
Wowza
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inception
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Into The Woods - Oregon Shakespeare Fest

If this is on the wrong board, my apologies.
Wednesday night I saw this production at the open air theatre in Ashland. This was the first professional production I have seen of Into The Woods, and I felt like it was very faithful to the OBC recording which I have listened to a lot. Big beautiful voices from all the cast, with standouts for me being Jennie Greenberry as Cinderella, Miles Fletcher as Jack - whose rendition of Giants in the Sky almost brought tears to my eyes it was so lovely, and Royer Bockus as Rapunzel. There were a few inventive moments, but it turned into a very satisfying and traditional performance. I don't know how many people here will see this production but if you are there may be SPOILERS ahead...




Before the play began the cast was milling about onstage in street clothes and looked like possibly members of the orchestra (who were on stage) preparing. But then they set up music stands and as the Narrator began it seemed like it would be a concert staging, but during the course of the first number some cast members would go off and return with bits of costuming or some even right on stage would transform their street clothes into costume - as though disappearing into the world of the fairy tale, until it had completely taken them over. There wasn't really a full set, but the staging instead made use of the theatre's many levels with ladders and balconies and in one memorable moment a character descends fireman pole style. There were also a few moments of audience interaction/participation used for good comic effect, for example - SPOILER - the "fake" Milky White presented in the second act was an audience member chosen for his head of white hair. The most non-traditional element was the use of a deaf actor portraying the Wolf with the actor who also played Cinderella's Prince standing behind him singing the part (in street clothes, not his Prince costume). And oh yes - the Wolf was costumed as - SPOILER (I'd rather somebody b*tch that I have too many spoilers than not enough) - a member of the Duck Dynasty clan!
I am one of those annoying people who speaks to the people seated around them, though when you travel people can immediately hear your accent and many warm up a bit. The folks I was seated beside had been attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since their childhoods and were familiar with much of the cast; Catherine Coulson who played both Cinderella's Stepmother AND Milky White - in an ingenious costume that transformed her instantly from one to the other - has been with the festival for 20 years. Their witch, Miriam A. Laube has been with the festival 10 years and is a big star there, and well worthy one! It was amusing watching the guy next to me during the first act - he didn't seen to be familiar with Into The Woods and he was asking his wife, "Who's that old lady? I thought that was supposed to be Miriam?" At intermission they got to reminiscing about all they had seen over the years and the many changes they had seen to the festival, and even how the theatre had once been just basically bleachers and not the grand structure it is now. It got the point that instead of me being the annoying guy interrupting them, I couldn't get them to shut up! I'm joking of course, I love to get people talking and listen to their stories.
The temperature in Ashland has been about 100F the last few weeks (which I don't think I could take) but on Tuesday a storm blew through all of Oregon and cooled down temperatures. Wednesday in Ashland there were a few clouds that began to accumulate and grow darker as night fell. Winds blew and it began to spit a bit of rain on the audience. The winds climaxed during the second act while in the play the cast was lost in the woods and in a panic. It felt like nature was adding its own special effects at just the right moments. By 11 pm leaving the theatre at the end, the wind had died away and the sky had cleared. I wonder whether they will be able to replicate such a magical experience.
Ashland is a very small town. Last night walking from my motel to see Comedy of Errors (another f@cking amazing production set in 20's Harlem with an African-American cast), I passed Javier Munoz who portrays the Baker on the sidewalk - you might remember him as Lin-Manuel Miranda's replacement in In The Heights - and spoke to him briefly, congratulating him on his amazing performance. It wasn't empty praise; for me his performance really put a button on the emotional depths of the piece as he contemplated how he would go about raising his now motherless child while Children Will Listen was being sung.
I left the theatre with a greater appreciation for this musical than I had before.

With the very fine company of actors they have I would love to see them take on A Little Night Music. I was casting it in my head as I walked back to my lodging. It won't be next year though as they have already announced the season and it includes the musicals Guys and Dolls and something called Head Over Heels featuring the music of The Go Go's. Yikes! Something more interesting might be an adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith as a play.

I was looking at Javier Munoz's facebook page and he has up a nice gallery of images from this priduction.


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Updated On: 7/25/14 at 12:28 PM
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Thanks for this. Holy crap! I'd love to see this.

I saw Javier Muñoz in a regional production of Babes in Arms in 2001. Amazing.
"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
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Nateben2
Understudy
joined:5/26/14
***SPOILERS***

This was my first Amanda Denhart production I have seen . . .

The orchestra is huge because it's a mix of students and professional - sometimes it doesn't matter - sometimes it obvious.

I spent act one hating almost every single choice. The cast starting off in stylized street clothes and music stands - as if apologizing for the orchestra is on stage, and they change during the opening number. There are no trees, no woods - it's just on the Elizabethan stage. There is no real delineation between the narrator and the mysterious man - which is very odd - and I think confusing for my guest who had never seen the show before. The wolf is played by two actors, a deaf company member acting and signing the role, the prince singing it. It was very odd, but there sexuality seemed to be stripped from the Wolf/Red relationship. The wolf in the bed just looked very amateur - although some of their special effects later were quite fun, and rough magic - which was good. (I wish they would cut the pyro in Act 1). Some quite fun costumes, but Cinderella look like she was wearing a mother-of-the-bride dress (it was truly unflattering). I don't like the addition of the “Our Little World” – I feel like it’s un-needed, but, I think they did some very fun stuff with it. The biggest sin in this production’s act 1 is there is a lot of audience participation – they choose audience members to play the birds to pick up lentils, to be the hen, even to be the brown cow, there is a lot of interaction with the audience. This for me completely ruins the moment in Act 2 when they break the forth wall with the narrator – for me, one of the best moments in the show.- they were already aware there was a forth wall, they already had broken it. There are also a lot of “ad libs” and “contemporary references” – end of Act 1 includes some references to “Single Ladies” choreography in the oddest end of Act 1 I have seen.

Then Act 2 comes along, the sun is now set, it’s a darker play, it’s darker out. And I actually think Act 2 is pretty damn good. There are some wonderful choices – including a bit different orchestration at the end, some very interesting staging choices, and some great blocking for Agony reprise. My only minor quibbles are how the do the giant, and the since I never bought the father / narrator – his song with the son felt very hollow with me.
** END OF SPOILERS **


BUT . . performance wise, the performers are knocking it out of the park. I love Ms. Laube’s witch. The Rapunzel was fantastic. Great Baker and Baker’s wife (And some of the best staging of the wife / prince “moment”). Both of Princes are amazing. And the ending moved me in a way that the show had not quite done for.

So in a way, although the first act was not my cup of tea – the show left me floored.

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inception
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Regarding the audience participation: as soon as it happened the first time I knew that there would be people who hated it; it is sort of a populist move, a cheap laugh and an easy way to get an audience who might not familiar with the show engaged.
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JohnyBroadway
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joined:4/10/12
I have tickets for Labor Day weekend. OSF has really been on the musical theatre mark the past couple of seasons, and I can't wait to see what they have done with Into the Woods. I most certainly excited about the cast.
matthewshiner
Swing
joined:11/9/11
JohnyBroadway - if you get a chance, check out Stew's new musical FAMILY ALBUM - it may not be everyone's type of musical, but there is some fun stuff.

Looking forward to next season with Mary Zimmerman's GUYS AND DOLLS and HEAD OVER HEELS - yes, it does seem like they are doing more and more musicals.
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inception
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Spoke to someone who said that Into The Woods is also being done this summer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, so I looked at their website and found their trailer - it shows what a hokey amateurish mess can be made of this work and how really wonderful in comparison this OSF production is. I'll try to add that link.

Re: the other musicals at OSF, Stew's Family Album was only in matinees while I was here and I decided to spend my days hiking instead. It seems like the majority of the audience here is seniors - especially at matinees, so taking that into consideration all I have heard from the people who have seen it was how terrible it is. They really really hate it. Which must be tough on the cast. Ashland is a very very small place, and yesterday I went easy on myself and just did the small walk up and around Lithia Park. In a secluded spot at the top of the park I stumbled upon the lead in Family Album getting a pep talk from someone trying to raise his spirits. Then I came across another company member out with his wife and children who was in the midst of trying to defend the play to a group who had accosted them, letting him know how much they hated it. I am surprised every time I travel down at how rude some Americans can be.
Utah's Into The Woods
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JohnyBroadway
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joined:4/10/12
The cocoanuts is also a classy stellar visit to the Theatre. Mark Bedard who plays Groucho is one class act.
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Showface
Broadway Star
joined:6/25/14
I don't see what's so wrong about the Utah Production, the sets look fine. The costumes look good as well. My only issue wa sthe singing at points (plus some of the acting), but it was just a preview, so I can't really judge.
I can't even! Ughh! Don't you...don't you understand? I'M IN TECH!!!
matthewshiner
Swing
joined:11/9/11
I have never been able to sit through a Marx Brothers' movie - but loved Cocoanuts - it was just a silly, fun night in the theater . . .
A Director
Broadway Star
joined:12/18/07
I've been going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since 1969, so I've seen the Festival change and grow over the years. In its 79 year history, there have been five Artistic Directors. Each one has built of the foundation or the previous Artistic Director's work and each have put his or her stamp on the Festival.

OSF does more musical these days than ever before because Bill Rauch, the AD, likes musicals and believes the musical is this countries contribution to world theatre. In the past few seasons, OSF has done: The Music Man, She Loves Me, Animal Crackers and The Pirates of Penzance. Last season, they did the World Premiere of an exciting new musical, The Unfortunates. I saw the show three times and loved it. ACT in San Francisco is doing a new production was a revised script.

I have seen three previous productions at OSF directed by Amanda Dehnert. The first was a beautiful and touching All's Well That Ends Well. The second was Julius Caesar with a cast of 12. It was very popular. I saw the production twice and didn't care of it either time. Last season, I saw her wonderful production of My Fair Lady which was a joy. In two and a half weeks, I'll see Into The Woods. In her productions, Ms Dehnert does not try to hide the "backstage" part of the show. In Julius Caesar, the actors mingled with the audience before the show. In My Fair Lady, before the show, the actors warmed-up onstage and the audience saw the chorus change costumes onstage. With each production, this was not a distraction for me. When I read other comments on this thread, I was not surprised by anything mentioned. I have a friend who was in My Fair Lady and is in Into The Woods. He told me the actors love working with Amanda Dehnert.

I've seen The Cocoanuts which is great fun and a hoot. Five of the actors were in Animal Crackers two seasons ago. There 120 performances of Animals Crackers. I saw the show twice and loved it each time. The five actor built on what they learned and The Cocoanuts is even better. A word about the Marx Brothers, people who saw them onstage and in the movies said they were funnier onstage because they fed off the audience. No two performances was the same. The same is true of the OSF production.

I'm seeing the new Stew and Heidi Rodewald show, Family Album, when I'm in Ashland. The show is the first of several new musicals commissioned by OSF. The reviews were not good and friends who have seen the show didn't like it. I'll go with an open mind.

I'm not surprised some people have told cast members what they thought of Family Album. OSF is a destination theatre, so people who go there want to be there. It's been my experience that people don't stage door. After most matinees, an actor from the show meets with audience members. Most people are polite with their comments. It is not usual to see actors on the street, in stores and restaurants. In a way, people who go to OSF season after season, begin to think of the actors, sort of like family, but in a good, polite way. Long time Festival goers are passionate about theatre and the Festival.

A word about next seasons two musicals. Mary Zimmerman is directing Guys and Dolls. She did not write the show, so it's not her show. The script for the World Premiere musical, Head Over Heels is by Jeff Whitty. He wants the first production to by done at OSF because he's an Oregon boy.

OSF does non-musicals too and the productions are very good. One of the joys about OSF is seeing actors in repertory. I've seen an actor in a comedy in the afternoon and that evening see the same actor in a drama. The 11th production of the season, The Great Society, the second Robert Schenkkan play about LBJ opens in the afternoon of July 27th.
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inception
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I have had a really great 9 day trip down through Oregon and everywhere people have been wonderful. My comments about people being rude was in reference to seeing people stop a guy when he was with his kids. This would likely happen anywhere where you get lots if tourists who aren't used to seeing "celebrities."

I loved Ms Dehnert's take, and was disappointed that she isn't slated to direct anything next year in Ashland. It's too bad it is such a long drive and tough to just go down for a weekend from Vancouver.

Cocoanuts is a tough ticket to get. This past week's one performance was sold out since at least April.

All the people I spoke to who saw The Great Society, I guess on previews, said it was one of the greatest things they had ever seen. I'll wait for a play about a truly great politician - Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
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inception
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Saw a post on "the other site" mentioning that this wonderful production of Into The Woods from Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be presented in the LA area this December at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts from December 2 - 21, 2014
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Wildcard
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joined:6/21/06
I saw this production in Beverly Hills over the weekend and while it is far from perfect, it is one of the better regional productions of the show I have seen. It has a few things in common with the upcoming Roundabout/Fiasco version heading off-Broadway. They both begin with the actors in 50 shades of beige and both have self-aware hipster qualities to them. Fortunately, that is where the similarities end and the Oregon Shakespeare Fest version rises beyond what New Yorkers will see next year. The biggest difference is that these actors can sing and act beautifully.

At first, I didn't like the concept of having the actors start in street clothes as if they were doing a reading of the musical. Milky White in the prologue is nothing more than a pail. However, as they start venturing into the woods, the actors become the characters and costumes are added on (or peeled off) for them to become the characters we know. The costumes were colorful combinations of hipster, cirque du soleil and bondage gear. Vocal stand outs were the witch and Cinderella. They both sang their parts beautifully. I was particularly enthralled with how Little Red was portrayed, a manic little girl who definitely had the tendencies to skin a wolf. Imagine Rachel Dratch in the role and that was the Little Red in the show. The witch cradling Rapunzel's bloody white dress in the second act was heartbreaking. The actors reverting back to their street clothes after "Children Will Listen" was a nice bookend to the staging.

Unfortunately, there were no real sets to speak of. In its original staging, it had the luxury of having the Elizabethan amphitheater as its backdrop. In LA, it was more of a black box with platforms substituting for the Ashland stage. The actors regularly played some of the scenes in the aisles as they would other Shakespearean presentations in Ashland and this brought the action closer to the audiences. Like I said, it is not a perfect production but I wish this was the version going to NY instead of that dismal Fiasco version.
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Wildcard
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Play Esq.
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Thank Wildcard...I plan on going while i'm in LA. I've never been to this theater, but the theater map makes the venue look pretty small. Thoughts on seat suggestions?
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Wildcard
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It was my first time in the theater as well. It's a small theater so there really wasn't a bad seat. I got my ticket on Goldstar and the seat I got wasn't bad.
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ChairinMain
Leading Actor
joined:4/2/07
It's a new theater, and very intimate. Anywhere in the orchestra is going to be good. There's a fair bit of action in the aisles, so take that into account. You'll occasionally have your choice between seeing an actor's back or twisting around to look at them.


I loved pretty much all of it, especially the way they do the end of the show.
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Play Esq.
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Thanks all! Looking forward to it!
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inception
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So glad to read these reviews. The LA Times article is really nice with lots of photos.
Reading the current thread with people listing their best and worst of's for the year got me reminiscing and I think this seeing this production in Ashland was probably my best of the year. I only saw a couple of the really hot shows in NY this year (Hedwig, If/Then, & Curious Incident) and for me this topped those.
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JohnyBroadway
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joined:4/10/12
The OSF production is quite magical. This is one production that should be seen by NYC audiences.
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FindingNamo
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joined:7/22/03
The above-linked review is not particularly compelling. It's always a mixed bag with Amanda Denhert, isn't it?
'First the Bastille than the butt plug.' -- M ______
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PepperedShepherd
Swing
joined:1/10/13
I saw this last night at the Annenberg. Color me impressed.

Let's get the negative out of the way: I really disliked the "deconstructed" opening, with the cast in street clothes, Milky Way as a tin pail with the word COW painted on it, the Witch entering in a wheelchair, etc. Yeah, I get what they were going for, but I felt they emphasized CONCEPT at the expense of COHERENCE.

If, for example, you weren't familiar with the piece, you would never know that the girl buying bread from the Baker is Little Red Riding Hood -- because she's not wearing a single article of red! (Why they couldn't at least put her in a red hoodie is beyond me...) And then, the way the characters would suddenly transform from street clothes to costumes was also off-putting. Jack's Mother, for example, sings her first verse wearing a long dress and in her natural long blonde hair. A few minutes later, however, she returns to the stage with a Lovett-esque red wig and an exaggerated fairy tale outfit, looking absolutely NOTHING like the Jack's Mother we'd already seen. Similar "disconnects" happen with other characters and it only serves to muddy the story and exposition.

Fortunately, once past this introductory rough patch (and with everyone now in costume), things proceed beautifully with only a few missteps along the way.

The cast is exceptional, with several being downright superlative. I was particularly impressed with Miriam Laube as the Witch and Jeff Skowron as the Baker. They not only sang the parts well, they acted the crap outta them -- with "Last Midnight" and "No More" being especially powerful and gut-wrenching. Kudos also to Miles Fletcher (Jack), Jennie Greenberry (Cinderella), Jeremy Peter Johnson (Cinderella's Prince), and Rachael Warren (Baker's Wife). A special treat was seeing Catherine Coulson -- the Log Lady from TWIN PEAKS -- as Cindy's Stepmother, the Giant, and Milky White.

Overall, the direction was frequently inspired, using different levels of the stage and the aisles to good effect. Clever use of lighting effects and video, too, and even a tiny dash of PIPPIN magic. The lack of any type of traditional scenery, however, does cause a few minor problems -- especially when depicting the Giant's destructiveness. (If a house collapses or a tree falls, but there is no house or tree to begin with....)

Lastly, although I had problems with the beginning, I found no fault with the ending. I don't know if it's been done like this before (and I won't spoil it) but, if not, it should have been. Absolutely brilliant.





Updated On: 12/10/14 at 03:55 PM
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Michael Bennett
Broadway Legend
joined:3/16/05
Caught this production last night and for me it was kind of all over the map, as most of Amanda's productions are. The first act is played broadly -- as in SNL skit on steroids broad. Though peppered with clever staging moments -- the beautiful humor of the script was steamrolled for 'bits' which for me was a complete turn off.

The second act, where of course, real emotion and humanity are required was much more successful. There are indeed some brilliant moments (including maybe the most gorgeous and poignant ending I've ever seen in any production of the show) and though the singing quality throughout was spotty and erratic, I thought individual performances (The Witch, The Baker, Cinderella specifically) were terrific.

And while it was a delight to hear a 18 piece orchestra play the show, I was slightly horrified at the double-time tempos employed throughout. So fast they turned they entire score into a fully realized version of the infamous "Into the Words" Forbidden Broadway parody.

Still, its an evening I would recommend. It's definitely a singular take on the material.


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