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Review: A Well-Sung Sondheim Favorite Ends the Long Period of Darkness in Sandy Springs

INTO THE WOODS plays at the Byers Theatre at Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center through July 18.

Review: A Well-Sung Sondheim Favorite Ends the Long Period of Darkness in Sandy Springs
Felicia Boswell and Leigh Ellen Jones
Photo By Ben Rose Photography

Over the weekend, City Springs Theatre Company, with both their seating and their infectious enthusiasm at full capacity, ended an interminably long period of darkness with the opening of their live production of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's popular Tony Award-winning 1986 tuner, INTO THE WOODS. And despite the fact that the musical, as written, suffers from an awkward disjointure between acts that will always be a problem for any production, it's a solid and well-sung outing for City Springs Theatre Company to mark the opening of a newly planned season full of beloved musicals, including THE SOUND OF MUSIC and WEST SIDE STORY. Though the staging here lacks the invention that sets apart really memorable productions of this musical, like the gorgeously staged and wholly unforgettable 2011 Atlanta production at Alliance Theatre, the staging is plenty strong enough to showcase the powerhouse cast full of familiar faces as well as to make us remember what it is we've missed about theatre during this unprecedented dark period.

The musical, which mashes up several familiar Grimm Brothers' fairy tales, tells the story of a childless baker and his wife who embark on a quest to gather hard-to-find items to reverse a witch's curse that prevents them from having a child. Along the way, they meet Jack, a spunky boy who wishes that his cow would give milk, and Cinderella, who desperately wants to go to the festival. As their stories intertwine, along with several other characters from other popular fairy tales, the characters learn valuable life lessons about how actions and consequences are inextricably linked.

City Springs Theatre has assembled a mostly-brilliant cast for this production. Atlanta favorite Haden Rider is back here in the role of Jack, and it's practically a note-perfect performance for him. Rider's voice and energy are well-suited for the role of the young Jack, even if he feels a little underused here. Leigh Ellen Jones, in the role of Cinderella, is a tour de force, literally somersaulting into the action and sucking up all of the air around her as she performs some of the most beautifully rendered songs of the production, including a show-stopping performance of "On the Steps of the Palace." Jeff McKerley also returns to the Atlanta stage as The Narrator, and he is, as always, a bright comedic light in a musical that often suffers under its own want of depressing weightiness. Billy Tighe and Felicia Boswell, playing the Baker and his wife, provide a solid and well-sung spine for the tale.

Review: A Well-Sung Sondheim Favorite Ends the Long Period of Darkness in Sandy Springs
The Cast of Into the Woods
Photo by Ben Rose Photography

Though the staging is often perfunctory and mostly without imaginative bravado, there are some truly bright spots for the collaborative team. The lighting and sound design by Mike Wood and Keith Bergeron are both impressive. Wood's beautiful lighting helps to create the sinister undertones of the shadowy woods and minimizes the problems with the set, which feels a little flat and undynamic. Bergeron's sound design is a major player in this production, providing some of the most inventive moments of the production. Particularly in the scenes where the unseen giant is wreaking havoc on the village, the sound is imagined perfectly, making the audience feel that the giant is lingering somewhere just out of view and that the impending devastation is a true cause for concern.

City Springs Theatre Company opened only a few short years ago in Atlanta and quickly established a reputation as one of the best theatre venues in the city. This first outing of their newly imagined 2021-2022 season is a solid entry into the catalogue of evidence for that well-earned reputation. It's not their best show to date. Not even close. But their commitment to reopening with such a large-scale production and at full capacity makes it the best bet for theatre in Atlanta right now.

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For tickets and info, click here.


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