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BWW Review: The Central New York Playhouse Rises to the Challenge with INTO THE WOODS

BWW Review: The Central New York Playhouse Rises to the Challenge with INTO THE WOODS
The company of The Central New York Playhouse production of Into the Woods. Costumes designed by Stephanie Long. Photo by Amelia Beamish/AB Photography.

As per usual The Central New York (CNY) Playhouse is entertaining audiences with a challenging musical - and not just any challenging musical, a Sondheim musical. Into the Woods, daringly directed by Korrie Taylor, is yet one more example of CNY Playhouse's guts. If there's one thing the company doesn't lack, it's having not only the ambition, but also the ability to perform a musical most community theaters wouldn't dare to produce.

Into the Woods, of course, features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine. Most recently, it was the source material for a 2014 Disney screen adaptation. It centers around the plight of a childless baker (Colin Keating) and his wife (Shannon Tompkins) who ae determined to have a child - the original beginning of The Brothers Grimm Rapunzel. To expand their family, the baker and his wife must perform a task for the Witch (Leila Dean) next door. If they perform the task as asked, the Witch will undue the curse on their family. The task at hand leads the baker and his wife into the woods where they cross the path with other beloved and familiar fairytale characters such as Cinderella (Corrie Raulli), Cinderella's Prince (Derek Powell), Rapunzel (Terri Kenedy), Little Red Riding Hood (Briana Jesse Duger), and many more - all of whom are confronted with their own challenges. Will everyone see a happy ending?

The CNY Playhouse cast is backed by a live orchestra directed by the talented Abel Searor. The area around the orchestra is mostly blocked by a well decorated wall that blends into the set. This addition addresses the sound balance issues between the instrumentalists and vocalists that have often plagued past productions. I say, well done to Korrie and Josh Taylor (who deliver a wonderful, detailed, and smart set design), sound designer Robert G. Searle, and musical director Abel Searor on finally finding a way to address the sound issues so that the audience can enjoy the vocals.

Korrie Taylor has assembled a cast that is hardworking, has wonderful chemistry, and performs to the best of their abilities. Having seen many of the cast members in past productions I must admit I was very surprised and delighted with some of the performances and disappointed in others. However, there is no doubt that the music and lyrics are incredibly difficult and most of the cast performed it well - all things considered.

Briana Jesse Duger as Little Red Riding Hood absolutely steals the show with her spunk, facial expressions, strong vocals, and killer comedic character acting chops. Her entire performance is flawless, and her rendition of "I Know Things Now" is the definition of perfection.

Colin Keating has the vocal ability to handle the role of the Baker and gives an enjoyable performance. Memorable numbers include "Maybe They're Magic (reprise)" and "No More." He also charms with "It Takes Two." Unfortunately, Shannon Tompkins vocal performance as the Baker's wife were incredibly disappointing on the night I attended. She often had a hard time hitting the notes. However, Tompkins' line delivery is superb and there's no doubt that she's a delightful comedic actress.

Leila Dean's strong performance as the Witch was not a surprise at all given her track record. Her powerful vocals and raw emotion make "Stay With Me" and "Witch's Lament" highlights, and her rendition of "Last Midnight" is pure magic. Stephanie Long's show-stealing costumes and Liam Fitzpatrick's lighting make her appearances all the more special. Dean is a powerhouse on stage.

Corrie Raulli is lovely in the role of Cinderella. She shows off her strong soprano vocals with "On the Steps of the Palace." She also delivers a beautiful rendition of "No One is Alone" along with Briana Jesse Duggar, Colin Keating, and Nic MacLane (Jack).

Other enjoyable performances include Derek Powell (Cinderella's Prince/Wolf) and Corey Hopkins (Rapunzel's Prince); their rendition of "Agony" is unforgettable. Terri Kennedy makes a strong impression as as Rapunzel with her expressive and soaring soprano vocals. Kathy Egloff proves she is a great character actress as Jack's Mom. Nic MacLane is likeable as Jack. Tatum Taylor - though on stage very briefly - is adorable as The Hen. Bruce Coville stumbled over his lines at times as the Narrator on the night I attended, but he portrayed the Mysterious Man very well, nicely landing all of his lines.

In addition to the previously mentioned musical numbers, "Your Fault" was one of my favorite number as well.

Into the Woods at the Central New York Playhouse proves that hard work and devotion pays off. All involved should be proud of this heartfelt and beautiful production that showcases some of the most gorgeous and complicated music in musical theater.

Running time: Approximately two hours and fifty minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.

Into the Woods runs through June 23, 2018 at The Central New York Playhouse located in Shoppingtown Mall in Syracuse, NY. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions at The Central New York Playhouse, click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley