BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Resident Theatre Co
Resident Theatre Company of West Chester, in its 3rd year under the direction of Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell, staged a vibrant, harmonious and poignant rendition of one of Sondheim's most difficult to stage, INTO THE WOODS.
Ah, the woods! The all-purpose symbol of the unconscious, the womb, the past, the dark place where we face our trials and emerge either wiser or destroyed. Yes, those medieval woods in a fairy-tale medieval time.
The mashing of the fables of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood (Rita Castagna), Rapunzel (Ashley Lennick, Jack and The Beanstalk (Jacob Entenman) are joined with one of librettist James Lapine's own invention; the Baker and his wife (Jeff Raab and Hillary Parker). The Baker and his wife are prototypical middle class urbanites; trying to earn a living and have a child - except for the fact they speak in fairy-tale stilted language and are surrounded by princesses and princes (Grant Stuber and Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton), giants and a witch (Jennie Eisenhower). Jack and his mother own the lovely but dry cow, Milky White. They sell it for some beans that when blossom become the fabled beanstalk.
Act 1 deals with the traditional telling of the tales; The farcical Happily. Act 2 identifies the little transgressions; the little lies and the characters' hearts and desires. So, from Happily to the melodramatic (but still very funny) Ever After.
The Narrator (Paul Weagraff) plays the wise - and sonorous - Narrator, ensuring the audience understands how the different tales intertwine.
Jones is luminous in her role. Engaging stage presence and a soaring and melodic voice. Her comedic chops were tested in the hilarious opening scene with her Step Mother (Gerri Weagraff) and the sisters Lucinda (Abby Anderson) and Florinda (Phoebe Gavula). Later on, when the sisters lose their sight, the bit with the sun glasses and walking sticks had laughs cascaded through the theatre.
One of the greatest male duets in musical theatre is in this show. Toniazzo-Naughton and Stuber doing "Agony", - with its impossibly clever lines - reminded me of Kramer in SEINFELD, able to deliver an outrageous laugh with a straight face. The little hop to exit was a funny standing joke.
Two-time Barrymore winner Eisenhower reverently sang perhaps Sondheim's greatest stand-alone tune (next to "Send In The Clowns"), "Witches Lament". 'Guide them along the way, still they don't listen. Children can only grow from something you love, to something you lose'. If that song does not bring a tear, your heart is as cold as Trump's.
Fun Fact: I was in the front row with Eisenhower's Barrymore-award Forbidden Broadway at The Walnut's Independence Stage. Portraying Liza on crack, she screamed in my face: "Do you know that Judy Garland is my MOTHER. Did you know THAT'!!!???
Music Director Brigitte Rottman did a fabulous job with these wonderful, choral voices. The harmonies in "First Midnight", as the characters recite their morals was church-like. Set Design by Brydon Lidle IV was both eerily and beautiful, clearly representing the fairy tale awe and wonderment.
Consider the exquisite lighting effects Lily Fossner on the attached picture. This opening artistry set the scene for the entire show.
It was a packed house opening night. The after party is a very cool idea, inviting the entire audience to schmooze with this exceedingly talented cast. Absolutely child friendly. A Christmas gift to them that will stay in their memory banks.
A final lesson to parents: "Careful of what you say, children will listen".
Through December 29 226 North High St. West Chester, PA 19380 (610) 356-2787
Next up: Vonya & Sonia & Masha & Spike - March 27