BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS Draws You Deeper In at Pike Performing Arts Center
The original book and musical, "Into the Woods", by James Lapine harkens back to oh-so-common cultural classic children's stories including "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Rapunzel," and "The Baker and his Wife," among a few others. Lapine wove these iconic characters and stories into one of his own.
INTO THE WOODS explores so many timeless themes: childhood, parenthood, nice versus good, right versus wrong, grief, confusion, and more. It was a unique experience to see all of these portrayed by the young and gifted cast of Pike High School at Pike Performing Arts Center. They brought a gravity and maturity to the performance that was quite impressive.
It is hard to make yourself stand out amongst a cast of characters who are so colorful and already beloved. Everyone has at least a passing familiarity with Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack with his giant beanstalk. One character who made their presence known in a short span of time was the Wolf, physicalized by Morgan Bodie and sang by Aaron Burkhart. Due to an actor leaving the show, Stratton made a smart and quick decision and the two actors were able to work together to pull it off. He had a particularly sinister but impactful presence in his scene with Little Red Riding Hood. movement worked well with the vocals, Burkhart's inflection all communicated his character's suave seduction of the little girl. It is always difficult to make someone so distasteful stand out for a positive reason, but Bodie and Burkhart pulled it off and even had some moments of humor to add to their standout performance.
The cast as a whole showed a lot of young talent, but the couple of the Baker (Jayden Baskin) and the Baker's Wife (Morgan Bodie) were standouts but for very different reasons. The Baker's Wife was notable for her vocal delivery. She showed a range and nuance that are difficult to achieve, especially for a performer who is just beginning their theatrical journey. It was especially important for this role to have someone who could have that kind of presence since her character goes through the experiences of not being able to have a child, to having a child, to having an extramarital liaison.
The Baker's presence was most notable for his comedic timing. He had a perfect way of making certain lines even funnier by delivering them in a total deadpan voice, plain and no frills. Using that kind of choice to bring out the humor in those moments was a very smart move and made him a natural standout in many of the scenes he was a part of.
It's a new and perverse story line controlled by a spiteful giantess and a egotistical witch. Stephen Sondheim's musical additional punctuate the tale and gave depth to characters from other tales such as the Big, Bad Wolf and two love-struck princes and the witch herself.
The show featured a cast, crew, and pit of highly talented high school students who brightly brought to life the spectacle of classic folktale characters, whose "happily ever after" stories are collected only to be undone. Originally produced by San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in 1986, the show introduces uncertainty, indecision, and disillusionment into a storybook world built for grownups.
Given a thorough boosting by Rob Marshall's 2014 movie version, the show "Into the Woods" has frequently been revived in recent years. This Pike Performing Arts Center staging, craftily directed by Karin Stratton, is one of the best I've seen. The cast is large, the show is long, and the score is infamously difficult to sing. "Into the Woods" isn't intended for dabblers in musical theater. But Stratton was able to select her cast shrewdly.
Charity Austin and Kayla Campbell, who played the Witch (one in Act I and the other in Act II) as well as anyone before them, transforming from old crone to mermaid-like diva, with help from Costume Designer Shannon Kellogg, both Austin and Campbell were sparkling in the way they both were able to blend the creepy with the comic.
Trey Peters and Jon Hacker both did well and made a dashingly hammy impression as they delighted in their frolicsome rendition of "Agony." This cheeky wail of two royal bachelors unaccustomed to any delay in their romantic satisfaction, returned throughout the show like a jaunty breeze.
Those of us who've seen this show loads of times tend to look most for depth and character, and that arrives here at PPAC. Some of the ideas in the show are a tad on the nose - one is a surprise - but what matters most about "Into the Woods" at its core is very much present here