BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Gettysburg Community Theatre
INTO THE WOODS is arguably a staple of American theatre. As one of the incomparable Stephen Sondheim's most recognizable shows, INTO THE WOODS is performed continuously by a multitude of theatres across America. From middle schools, to universities, to regional theatre and beyond, an active audience member can often find at least one theatre in their area presenting INTO THE WOODS in their current season. A show with this much popularity can begin to feel trite, and theatres may struggle to find originality in their own production of this often-told tale. However, this is not the case at Gettysburg Community Theatre. Their production of INTO THE WOODS trades elaborate sets and costumes for creativity and simplicity, allowing them to truly focus on the issues and moral questions the story presents. The unique twists sprinkled throughout the show are then facilitated through a host of talent, making Gettysburg Community Theatre's production of INTO THE WOODS not to be missed.
INTO THE WOODS features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (COMPANY, SWEENEY TODD) and a book by James Lapine. The show first premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987 after its world debut at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1986. The original Broadway production was housed at the Martin Beck Theatre and ran for 765 performances before closing on September 3, 1989. The cast featured Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, Kim Crosby, Joanna Gleason, and Tom Aldredge, among others. INTO THE WOODS took home several Tony Awards in 1988, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical for Joanna Gleason. Since the original production, INTO THE WOODS has seen new life in the form of national tours, West End productions, concerts, and Broadway revivals. Most recently, Walt Disney Studios adapted the show into a movie musical featuring Meryl Streep, James Corden, and Emily Blunt. Schools and community theatres alike have since embraced the show with open arms, keeping INTO THE WOODS a household name for musical theatre fans.
The show follows a lowly baker and his wife, who are told by the "witch next door" that they have been cursed to remain childless unless they can procure a collection of items to lift the spell. In order to do this, they must travel through the woods, where they meet a variety of fairytale characters along the way. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack (of "Jack and the Beanstalk") are also faced with challenges of their own, each brought into the woods to fulfill their wish or complete their task. But the twists and turns of the forest bring them together in ways they never would have predicted, and soon they all must work together in order to drive away a rather large threat from their lands.
The central characters of The Baker and his Wife are played at Gettysburg Community Theatre by Chuck Lambert and Lindsey Ringquist, respectively. These characters are perhaps the least exaggerated of their fairytale counterparts, and Lambert and Ringquist both include this crucial dose of humanity in their portrayals. They have wonderful romantic chemistry as a couple, interacting in a way that conveys to the audience that the Baker and his wife have been together for a long time, and are familiar with each other's habits. However, they also both do an excellent job of highlighting the individual qualities of their characters, as well as the fundamental differences that exist between them.
Lambert's Baker is determined to assert himself as the man of the house, but still clearly operates on an upstanding moral compass. He takes time to consider each action and the decisions behind it, and exudes a desire to do the best he can to provide for his wife and the child they long for. Though often exasperated and challenged by his ordeals, the Baker is given noticeable development as he travels through the woods. He becomes bolder, braver, and more sure of himself at every turn. However, he is highly reliant on his wife, and often seems more disoriented and weary when she is not present. Lambert is incredibly natural in his presence and movement, and expertly portrays his character's combination of cluelessness, tenderness, and strong emotion. This is also facilitated by a commendable voice, especially in numbers such as "No More" and "No One is Alone."
Ringquist's Wife, in turn, provides a sense of direction and motivation to her onstage husband. She is clever and stubborn, but also possesses a great capacity for caring. However, unlike the Baker, his wife is determined to do whatever it takes to secure a child from the very start. She is far more cunning and underhanded, and clearly believes that the ends justify the means. However, her desire for a child is often rivaled by her desire for the finer things in life, a desire which Ringquist highlights in her character. For all her spunk, sarcasm, and independence, her Baker's Wife is easily swept off her feet, and is what most would consider a hopeless romantic. Ringquist is also incredibly expressive in her movements and delivery, and this helps to bring out the complexities of her character. The Baker's Wife is a woman who, while willing to take whatever steps necessary to reach her goal, also looks to absolve herself of blame in order to protect her upright image. This is conveyed very well in Ringquist's portrayal. She also displays her vocal ability in songs such as "Moments in the Woods" and "Maybe They're Magic."
Lambert and Ringquist work together to create central characters with substantial depth. Their couple is in love, and desperately wants to expand their family, but often struggles when actually faced with adversity and responsibility. As much as they want to appear in control, they are fundamentally unsure of themselves, and worry about how this uncertainty will affect their lives and the lives of others around them. The Baker and his Wife are incredibly intriguing characters, and require strong actors in order to carry the show. Lambert and Ringquist fit this bill, and make their characters ones that the audience wishes to see succeed in their efforts, no matter how "bent" they might be.
A host of fairy tale personalities encounter The Baker and his wife as they travel through the woods, each with own story to tell. Cinderella is one such character, and is played at Gettysburg Community Theatre by Michaela Odian. From the very start, her voice steals the audience attention, and she shines in numbers such as "On the Steps of the Palace" and "No One is Alone." Odian's Cinderella sweet and gentle, as she is meant to be, but very clearly longs for something she can't quite name. She is uncertain of not only her love for her prince, but of what exactly she wants out of life. Despite this uncertainty, she is thoughtful, calm, and contemplative, which could perhaps explain moments in which Odian may benefit from a bit more energy onstage. However, she consistently portrays a range of emotion to accompany the twists and turns of the show, and it is very interesting to see her character's growth. Cinderella becomes braver and more confident in her decisions, and Odian handles this development very well in her portrayal while still maintaining her character's tender disposition. She takes on responsibility with open arms, and in this way differs from the Baker and his Wife. And while they struggle to decide which road is the high road, Cinderella is firm in her belief system, which gives her audience favor.
Little Red Riding Hood, in turn, always displays the confidence that Cinderella's character may lack. Portrayed by Sophie Stromberg, Little Red is young and spunky, and this youth is especially emphasized well with her often daring and charmingly self-serving characteristics. Though she is brave, Stromberg's Little Red is also sincere and naive, and is easily led astray at the beginning of the show. Much like the other characters in the show, she too finds her courage and bravery as the plot progresses, and then displays a new, fiercer quality about her. Stromberg also displays Red's youth and slight immaturity in her facial expression and physicality; hers is some of the best in the show. Much of acting is reacting, and Stromberg perhaps understands this ideal more than any of the cast. She is always in the moment, and conveys her emotions incredibly well. Her voice is also impressive, and is a treat in numbers such as "I Know Things Now."
Kevin Foster plays Jack, another particularly youthful character. His mother describes him as "sunny but vague," and Foster emphasizes these aspects of Jack particularly well. He is incredibly enthusiastic in his role, perhaps more than anyone in the show, though sometimes is a bit too loud in his line delivery. Foster's voice, however, is one to be envied, especially in number such as "Giants in the Sky." However, he could benefit from a bit more variation of expression and emotion in his delivery. Though he sometimes seems a bit overly dramatic in his portrayal, he still maintains Jack's boyish charm and zeal for life and adventure. Foster also uses choice moments in the show to remind the audience that, for all of his endearing qualities, he is still a brat.
When met with much adversity, the characters of INTO THE WOODS begin to wonder just who set them on this unfortunate course. The blame is ultimately placed upon the Witch, a character inspired by a multitude of fairy tale villains which came before her. She is played by Melissa Rosenfeld, who delivers an incredible performance. From her first entrance, Rosenfeld's Witch is intriguing and deliciously evil. She appears to delight in wickedness, and revels in the idea of making life difficult for the Baker and his wife. However, Rosenfeld also communicates the internal desires of her character very well; her Witch forces the characters to complete their journey with a streak of desperation, as though she too will benefit from their success. The Witch's complexity is also seen in her relationship with her daughter, Rapunzel, whom she appears to love unconditionally and is determined to protect.
Rosenfeld's Witch is not only crafty, clever, and somewhat ruthless, but also capable of experiencing the same range of emotion as the rest of the central characters. The audience sees her both at the height of her power and in the depths of her sadness, and Rosenfeld handles each emotional turn expertly. The Witch is layered and interesting, making her character a quick audience favorite despite her less-than-pure intentions. Rosenfeld also displays an incredible vocal talent, most evident in number such as "Children Will Listen" and "Last Midnight."
No fairy tale is complete without a narrator, and Gettysburg Community Theatre provides this in the form of Michael Krikorian, who also doubles as the Mysterious Man. Krikorian does an excellent job of keeping the story on track, and delivers his lines in the engaging, wonder-filled manner one would expect. While usually distant from the show itself, Krikorian's Narrator has a flare for the dramatic, and helps to weave the complicated web before the audience. However, he also does equally well in the role of the Mysterious Man, in which Krikorian trades his calm demeanor for one much more mischievous. He is a master of stirring up trouble, and Krikorian's mannerisms and inflection are perfect for his character's constant state of flurrying motion. Mysterious is an apt description for Krikorian's character; the audience fears that he is hiding something, and he keeps his secret well as he reveals those of the characters.
The ensemble of Gettysburg Community Theatre's INTO THE WOODS is perhaps the backbone of the production. Group numbers such as "Into the Woods," "Act 1 Finale," and "Finale" are where the cast truly shines as a company, and create an incredible sound. However, the smaller parts of the show are not to be overlooked. Some actors take on several roles during the show, and each brings a unique twist to classic characters that make the performance all the more entertaining. Marilyn Lopes, for instance, shows perhaps the most diverse acting range in the show. She portrays Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood's Grandmother, and Cinderella's Mother, and takes on an entirely different persona in each role.
Her Rapunzel adorns a dreamy disposition, but also becomes defiant when her mother, the Witch, keeps her locked away from the world for too long. She then becomes a tough-as-nails grandmother, unafraid to skin any wolf who dares to threaten her. Finally, she is the spirit of Cinderella's kind mother, who encourages her daughter to follow her heart's desires. Lopes truly makes each role her own, and appears to truly enjoy the time she spends onstage. This is an incredibly contagious trait, and is one that makes her a joy to watch. Her vocal talent proves to be just as strong as her acting, and her numbers, such as "Our Little World," are a treat.
Ann Barcroft, Andrea Stephenson, and Linda Funk portray Cinderella's stepmother and two stepsisters, respectively, and are wonderfully haughty and selfish. They clearly enjoy taunting and teasing Cinderella, and do not seem to have a sincere bone in their body. They are character that the audience loves to hate, and each actress embraces this sentiment in their portrayal. Barcroft in particular dons an air of superiority each time she steps on stage, and also possesses a wonderful, almost operatic voice. An entirely different kind of material figure is seen in Buff Wills as Jack's Mother.
Unlike Cinderella's Stepmother, Jack's Mother cares for her child endlessly, and pushes him to get his head out of the clouds. She is stubborn, stern, and blunt, but ultimately wants to the best for Jack. Many audience members may see traces of their own mother in Wills' tough but fair interpretation, and this helps them connect to her character. Though Wills occasionally stumbles through a few lines, she recovers very well, and maintains the infallible attitude of her character. Other notable performances come from Shane Miller as Cinderella's Father/Wolf 1 and Jessy Ringquist as Steward/Wolf 2. They also demonstrate the ability to switch between characters such as a drunken, absent father or a morally upright steward to a pair of devious wolves that make the audience perfectly uncomfortable.
Finally, Rennes D. Carbaugh and Nic Vaughan Ecker round out the cast as Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince. They are perhaps the most comedic character in the show, and seem to truly embrace this responsibility. Carbaugh and Ecker embody the perfect exaggeration of regality and manhood in their princes; their inflection and physicality is overly dramatic and gushes with confidence. Their princes are self-serving and vain, and most importantly, they are wonderfully melodramatic. Number such as "Agony" beg for over-the-top interpretations, and this is what Carbaugh and Ecker deliver. Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince each want to prove that they are the superior brother while also wishing the other to pity their plight, and this leads to some of the most humorous moments of the show. Carbaugh and Ecker then round out their royal talent with particularly impressive vocal ability. They add even more entertainment to an already captivating cast.
INTO THE WOODS at Gettysburg Community Theatre not only is brought to life by a host of praise-worthy actors, but also by several outstanding creative touches. Perhaps the most enjoyable of these comes in the form of Milky White, Jack's beloved cow. While most productions of INTO THE WOODS create their own prop cow out of the available materials, director Chad-Alan Carr instead chose to represent Milky White through several actors rotating through the role. This was an innovative and incredibly unique decision, and ultimately paid off in the eyes of the audience. Each actor to play Milky White gave the animal a distinct personality, and this brought a new, playful element to the show that is often missing in many productions. In fact, Milky White became an audience favorite in each incarnation.
Other notable changes are seen in the score, in which some songs are transformed into duets or group numbers, including "Hello Little Girl," and "On the Steps of the Palace." These were a clear mark of originality from other productions, and while it can often be a risk to change songs that are well-known in the musical theatre canon, these additions proved to be successful.
Finally, though there were many aspects of this rendition of INTO THE WOODS which set it apart from the norm, the last particularly impactful touch was seen in the small book pages scattered across the set. While this may seem like a detail meant to go unnoticed, the book pages served to tie the story together and retain the somewhat whimsical, fairytale feeling of the show. INTO THE WOODS at Gettysburg Community Theatre is one that thrives on a unique style and delivery, and is supported by a company of actors that understands the vision of the show. It embraces the spirit of a community theatre that creates an impressive production out of minimal resources, and truly speaks to the power of storytelling. The show is one for theatre-goers of all sorts, and gives a glimpse of the journey behind the happily ever after.
Presented by Gettysburg Community Theatre through June 17th. Next is CHILDREN OF THE BATTLEFIELD. Visit www.gettysburgcommunitytheatre.org.
Photo credit to Cindie Leer.