BWW Reviews: Lyric Music Theater Serves Up Sophisticated Sondheim
Lyric Music Theater has mounted a dazzling new hit to brighten the waning days of winter. Under the direction of Raymond Marc Dumont, the venerable South Portland community theatre has put together an energetic, sophisticated, and compelling production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods that is, quite simply, one of the season's best efforts on any stage!
The 1986 Tony award-winning Sondheim-Lapine musical, which revisits classic fairy tales through the dark lense of Bruno Bettelheim, showcases the composer and lyricist at his witty, sardonic, and poignant best. The score is virtually through-composed, replete with complex and characterful musical ensembles which underscore Sondheim's brilliantly scathing rhymes. The show poses dramatic and musical challenges that demand an inventive, resilient, technically skilled ensemble, and this is precisely what Lyric Theater has assembled under the masterful hand of director/choreographer Raymond Marc Dumont.
Dumont brings to his task a passionate energy, humor, emotion, and clarity; his direction has both structure and substance. Moreover, it has élan - a quick pace that is essential to creating the unity for this series of loosely linked episodes and an astute understanding of how to build tension and juxtapose laughter and pathos. Dumont moves the nineteen actors with a fluid facility that maximizes the use of the Lyric's long, horizontal space. His choreography is integral to the musical staging, creating a sense of a seamless whole that parallels the score. But beyond all these technical achievements, Dumont endows the piece with a deep humanity that ultimately gives it joyful heart.
David Delano's musical direction is similarly subtle and skilled. He leads the six-piece offstage musical ensemble with precision, perfect phrasing, and sprightly tempi. His own keyboard accompaniments are lyrical and nuanced, and he draws from the entire cast a high level of vocal performance.
The admirable physical production rests in the capable hands of a talented design crew. Donald Smith's simple, yet evocative set utilizes a panoramic woodland backdrop, a series of black skrim panels, and a few carefully chosen structural pieces which effectively solve some of the book's challenges such as Rapunzel's tower. These are magically lit by Florence Cooley, who creates mood with color and captures the seductive danger of these metaphorical woods. Janie Downey Maxwell has built a collection of charming props, not least among which is the irresistible pair of Milky Whites, Jack's beloved cows. Louise Keezer and her costume team outdo themselves with lavish and imaginative attire for the entire cast; Steve Riley merits special mention for his poetic masks, and Samuel Rapaport's sound design is not only acoustically balanced, but enlivened by clever special effects such as those which bring to life the offstage giants.
Lyric's cast is an embarrassment of riches, all performing at a uniformly professional level. Rebecca Rinaldi brings a powerful vocal and dramatic presence to the Witch and manages to find both the darkness and humanity in the character. Tommy Waltz shines as the Baker in a nuanced musical and histrionic performance that is filled with warmth and affirmation. Kim Drisko is a lyric-voiced, affecting Baker's Wife, and the chemistry and timing between these two does a great deal for advancing the narrative. As Cinderella, Kelsie Camire evidences a well-schooled coloratura soprano and makes the transition from storybook princess to wiser woman.
David Aaron Van Duyne has a show stealing moment as the Wolf and uses his impressive baritone and handsome presence to make the most of Cinderella's pompous Prince. John U. Robinson is a colorful counterpart as his brother, Rapunzel's Prince. Abigail Ackley is pert and pushy as Little Red Ridinghood; Zach Anderson makes Jack a loveable oaf. Rachel Jane Henry's Rapunzel is appropriately neurotic, using her agile soprano with ease.
The remainder of the ensemble acquits itself admirably with Barbara Laveault a memorable mother to Jack, Mark E. Dils a prescient narrator and mysterious old man, and Chris Camire a cowardly steward. The quartet of Cinderella's relatives (Jeannine Cannizzo, Kacy Christine Woodworth, Brie Roche, and Paul Machlin) adds satiric bite, while Holly Hinchliffe and Alison Bogannan round out the cast with cameos as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
Like so many of Sondheim's works, Into the Woods is a meditation on human folly, as well as a hymn to human decency and compassion. In casting doubt on "happily ever after," Sondheim redefines the consequences of man's choices. With his inimitable blend of satire and sincerity, absurdity and truth, the composer takes his audience on a journey through the woods - a dark, magical realm within the human spirit. In Lyric Theater's production, as we take this romp with him and his characters, we emerge from these woods chastened and wiser for the journey.
Photos Courtesy of Lyric Music Theater, Audra Hatch, photographer
Into the Woods runs until March 1, 2014.Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St., South Portland, ME 207-799-1421 or www.lyricmusictheater.org