BWW Review: Go INTO THE WOODS at the Belmont Theatre

BWW Review: Go INTO THE WOODS at the Belmont Theatre

Was it really in 1987 that Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS appeared on Broadway? It seems alternately far older and far newer. Older, most likely, because it's based on our grandparents' grandparents' bedtime stories - the fairytales "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Rapunzel," or those fairytales if everyone lived in the same village. Newer, because the moral of the show, if not of the individual tales, is never not fresh: "Don't ask for what you wish for - you might get it."

There are those adult children whom the show disappoints, the ones who believe every fairy story begins with "once upon a time" and ends with "and they all lived happily ever after." "Happily ever after" ends Act One. Act Two addresses what life is like when you're forced to live with the consequences of momentary happiness. It's the act for those made of sterner stuff, those wise enough to know that no one is ever always happy.

This superficially child-fantasy, yet psychologically rich, musical is on at The Belmont Theatre in York, where director Rene Staub has assembled a large, and extremely talented, regional cast to put on this piece of stage witchery.

The three most lead-like of the leads are the Baker, the Baker's Wife, and the Witch, as well as the Narrator, whose job is to help the characters, as well as the audience, remember who is who, what is where, and what the Witch is now up to. (Evil witches do big business in fairy stories.) The Narrator is played charmingly by Dough Eppler, even while he recounts just who's been done to, and by whom. The Baker's Wife, Sarah Pugh, is a marvelous character played by a solid regional community actress and singer. The Baker, who like the Cowardly Lion of Oz, grows a backbone through the show, is Niklas ("Nik") Olsen, a perennial younger favorite on area stages who's soon to make his debut at the Fulton Theatre. Olsen's grown tremendously through his years on stage, and it's always a pleasure to watch him at work.

The Witch, Julia Tighe Howey, is the real pleasure of the show; whether witching in the first act, or bitching cleverly in the second, she's always in top form, and her character is, whether evil or good, really the only person with common sense in the village. Women, we've come to learn, are the most hated when they're telling unpleasant truths, and that's what the Witch has in her arsenal.

A few characters who aren't good with truths are Cinderella and Rapunzel, beautifully played by Nicole Dziurzynski and Ashley Dziurzynski, and their respective princes, Eric Hartman and Mike McGuinness. They are the ones who discover that marrying the beautiful girl or the handsome prince doesn't begin to improve life. In fact there are annoying relatives, needy kids, straying husbands (one hears a tale of Snow White, the other of Sleeping Beauty, and both have determined to quest after them) and all the sets of problems that life is heir to. And Jack, of Beanstalk fame, played ably by Jacob Schmitt, has to learn that all actions have consequences that aren't always pleasant.

The woods are a dark and frightening place. The witch lurks in the woods, as do frightening sounds, ghosts, and trees. Entering the woods, in the show, is the beginning of the mythic hero's journey, except that people aren't always heroic and quests don't always end successfully. Ultimately, what each of the characters brings out of the woods is what they brought in, and only those who have some degree of inner strength going in ultimately emerge, stronger than they were before.

Beautiful sets and costumes make the production even better, and they're matters that the Belmont is noted for these days. These woods are dark, they are frightening, and the characters all meet ends that they well deserve. Strength and honesty beat handsome and dumb. Self-reliant beats beautiful. Practical beats pretty, and surviving the ramifications of happily ever after isn't an easy trick. It's to Staub's and the cast's credit that they make it look easier than it is.

At the Belmont Theatre, York, through February 25. Visit for tickets and information.

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