BWW Reviews: Bayou City Theatrics' INTO THE WOODS Puts a Fantastic, Fresh, and Intimate Spin on a Classic
What happens when artists reclaim prominent fairy tale figures from Disney's sparkling and sanitzied translations? Well, for one, INTO THE WOODS is born. The show, with a book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, presents fairy tale characters that are closer to their origins. They are bawdy, sarcastic, humorous, and ultimately tangibly real in their own ways. The varnish is removed and their valuable lessons are given to light again. Whether you love or hate Stephen Sondheim's work, there is no denying that the man is brilliant and INTO THE WOODS, as produced by Colton Berry's Bayou City Theatrics, magnificently illustrates this.
At the top of INTO THE WOODS, a young boy comes on stage in a harried hurry. As the boy's flashlight bounces around the theatre, the fairy tale cast files into the background, creating a forest-or woods-of human bodies. The child is obviously running from someone or something. As terror sets in, the child begins to recount the fairytales that comfort him. The woods seemingly come to life and act out the tale of a Baker and his wife striving to collect the ingredients for a magic potion that will enable them to have a child of their own. However, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack of Jack in the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel feature prominently in this multifaceted tale as well, with their narratives being creatively and cleverly woven into the Baker and his wife's plot.
Direction by Colton Berry is nothing short of fantastic. INTO THE WOODS is a huge musical with a large cast; yet, Colton Berry and his cast of 18 fit the giant show into a small 130-seat venue. Colton Berry's direction deftly draws the audience into the action, having both a stage entrance and acting space located within the seating area. Thus, Colton Berry's INTO THE WOODS is incredibly intimate. Moreover, each character is distinctive and stands apart from the others, which often gives audiences enough to watch on stage that repeat viewings will be required for members of the audience who want to see it all. Whenever they are present on stage, Colton Berry has expertly directed each member of his cast to consistently be reacting to the action of the show, even if they are not entirely involved in it at that particular time. For example, the young narrator, even when mostly tucked out of sight, is visually reacting to the story he is telling. No mater where your eyes may land, you'll be seeing quality acting occurring at all times.
As the Baker, Matt Johnson's Baritone instrument is comfortably on display. Adding light Gospel inspired touches to his singing sets his character apart from others, while adding beauty and stirring emotionality to his songs, especially on "No One Is Alone." The audience can't help but root for him, as he is entirely likeable even when he becomes a father that is completely unsure of himself as a parent, having no clue what to do with his own infant child.
Danica Johnston's as the Baker's Wife is a pure jot to watch perform. Her lovely Soprano instrument is gloriously on display. Within the setting of the intimate venue and her choices of characterization, it becomes instantly apparent that her living vicariously through Cinderella being chased by the prince is because of her own infatuation with him. This makes her momentary affair with him between "Any Moment" and "Moment in the Woods" a pay off of audience expectations, not a surprise. Lurking under the wholesome surface of the Danica Johnston's Baker's wife is a woman who is not quite satiated with her life, which brings an interesting dynamic to the character's wishes and the consequences of her wish fulfillment.
Playing Jack, Scott Lupton is magnanimous and perfectly charismatic. His love for his pet, Milky White, is instantly tangible and relatable. Mix in his supple and pliant tenor instrument, and the character springs to life in a way that audiences simply enjoy and love. His rendition of "Giants in the Sky" is one of the evening's most memorable moments.
The Witch is supremely and sublimely played and sung by Wendy Taylor. In addition to her gorgeous, robust, and powerful Soprano voice, complete with a rousing belt, being pristinely on display the whole evening, she must be surprisingly athletic. When haggard and ugly for most of the 90-minute first act, she walks in a perpetual crouching squat while wearing heels, singing, and acting. Wendy Taylor is a powerhouse force on the stage that captivates and inspires with her stunning craftsmanship. Her renditions of "Stay With Me," "Witch's Lament," and "Last Midnight" are lulling, captivating, and wholly entertaining.
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