Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

There is one more weekend to catch this Sondheim classic in this historic theatre

By: Sep. 27, 2023
Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

When COVID shut down the world, the theatre world took a major hit. No one knew when we would be able to gather as a group, let along work together to create art again. Some theatres adjusted, some patrons kept donating, but then some went dark and stayed dark for a while, if not permanent. The Rialto Community Theatre, 215 E. Broadway St., in Morrilton, has struggled to form a theatre group that could bring the entertainment back to downtown Morrilton post the pandemic, but it seems to be making a breakthrough with their production of INTO THE WOODS. Directed by newcomer K. Shane Boen, this Sondheim musical may just answer the wish that the Rialto has been making. You have one weekend left, Friday, Sept. 29- Sunday, Oct. 1, to see if this amazingly talented cast gets a happy ever after.  

INTO THE WOODS follows Cinderella (Stephanie McQueen), The Baker (Jeff Ward) and his wife (Casey Brinkerhoff), Little Red Riding Hood (Annabelle Tharnish), and Jack (Jackson Tharnish) as they try to get their wish while battling The Witch (Patricia Loera). During the first Act, everyone gets their wish. In the second Act, the Wife of the giant (Cyndi Harris) comes down for revenge. How does it end? Come see the show. 

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre
Sarah Duvall as Rapunzel and Patricia Loera as The Witch

This cast has brought the magic back to the Rialto stage. INTO THE WOODS is a dream musical for so many, that seasoned actors traveled many miles to the small community to bring this story to life.  

Loera commands the stage as The Witch in both of her forms. Her vocals are powerful and her commitment to the character is mesmerizing. I loved watching her as she terrorized all of the wood’s inhabitants.  

I could watch Ward and Brinkerhoff play off each other all day. Their chemistry is endearing, and I love how they work as a team to tell the story. They give off so much energy, and their vocals really tug with your emotions.  

McQueen shines as Cinderella. You can see in her eyes that she is in need of her wish, and she interacts well with her fellow wish seekers. She especially bonds well with Annabelle’s Little Red in “No One Is Alone.” Annebelle brings the sass and has the best couple’s scenes with a lot of the cast. It’s fun to see her with The Baker when he tries to take her cloak, she does well with her scenes with Jack-her real-life brother, and, of course, she shines when she is pitted against The Wolf (Caleb Purtle). Jackson’s Jack does his best to prove to his mother (Hailey-Anne White) that he is a man. The Narrator (Max Churchwell) presents the tale with ease, and everyone loves “Agony” with Cinderella’s Prince (Caleb Purtle) and Repunzal's Prince (Jesse Burgener). This show has so many wonderful parts that intertwine with each other, and you don’t want to miss it.  

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre
Jeff Ward as The Baker and David Garret as Mysterious Man

Before the show, I was able to catch up with some of the cast of INTO THE WOODS to talk about the excitement of relaunching the Rialto after the pandemic. 

BWW: Are you enjoying doing Into the Woods after all the COVID shutdown?  

Annabelle: Yeah, definitely. I play Little Red Riding Hood, and I am loving this character. It's one of the roles of my dreams, actually.  

BWW: Tell me about it.  

Annabelle: OK, Little Red Riding Hood is a snarky little girl that thinks she knows everything. She goes into the woods and finds out that she's actually quite naive and gullible, so it's fun as she discovers who she is while helping some friends along the way.  

BWW: What do you think of the Rialto? 

Annabelle: The Rialto is awesome. The people are amazing. It's a great community. Every time while working on a show, you grow so close to the cast. They are such great people.

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

BWW: Your brother Jackson is also in the play. Who all in your family is in this?  

Jackson: So my little sister Annabelle is Little Red Riding Hood. My younger sister Cora does a lot of work backstage with the stage crew, and she is also an understudy, and my mom is Cinderella’s stepmother.  

BWW: What’s it like working with your family members.  

Jackson: So much fun. We grow closer together, and we like making new friends with this amazing community. We love it. 

BWW: That’s great. Well, we love having all of these new faces here. Stephanie is also new to the Rialto. Tell us about your role. 

Stephanie: I am playing Cinderella. Into the Woods is a dream show of mine. I've always wanted to be in Into the Woods ever since middle school when I first saw the PBS version of it. I am so excited to be part of this cast.  

BWW: Tell us about your past theatrical endeavors. 

Stephanie: Theater has been a part of my life since I was six years old. I got my degree in theater, and I just moved here from Virginia. So, I'm excited to jump back into theater, post baby and help a community bring theater back to their community.  

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

BWW: Is this your first show post COVID? 

Stephanie: No. I've done other shows post COVID, but this is my first show in Arkansas since I moved here. In Virginia, I did a couple of cabarets. One was called FALL INTO BROADWAY and the other was THE GOLDEN AGE OF BROADWAY. And then I did SHREK THE MUSICAL in April 2022. INTO THE WOODS is my first show after having a baby.  

BWW: So that's a little bit of a challenge.  

Stephanie: It is, but the cast and crew enjoy having him here. So, it's nice that I've been able to still, as a new mom, continue to do my passion and have my baby with me. And people just love him. It's given me the ability to get back into theater and to find a plug here in Arkansas.  

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

BWW: What brought you to Arkansas?  

Stephanie: My husband is stationed at The Little Rock Air Force Base. He's been here for three years, but I just joined him in April.  

BWW: Well, we are so happy you are here. So, why should people come into the woods?  

Stephanie: Because it is a really fun show. The whole thing about Into the Woods is just finding your way and going after your wishes, and even though you don’t know understand everything, you still go on even though it's scary, even though you know you must face things, you have to do it every now and then. You know, sometimes, you still gotta go and adventure, even when it's scary.  

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

BWW: True. 

Stephanie: Also, it’s a good opportunity to come see some live theatre.  

BWW: Why should people come see live theatre? 

Stephanie: Because live theater is unpredictable. That's the fun of it, you know. It's not like film where you do something over and over again. I've done some films too where there's takes, and you do them over and over until you get the perfect take. With live theater, it's like a one shot where you put it out all on the stage and whatever happens, happens.  

BWW: Great! Thank you, Stephanie. Now we focus on Director Shane Boen. Tell us about your experience with The Rialto and the recent reboot of the theatre.  

K Shane Boen: Being welcomed into the Morrilton Rialto Theater has been a huge honor. Since covid the Rialto Community Arts Center has been shuttered when it came to mainstage productions put on by the Rialto Players. INTO THE WOODS is a great show to help with the reopening and revitalization of live shows. During the audition process we had a good mix of both Morrilton residents and more seasoned actors from throughout the Central Arkansas region.  

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre
Director K Shane Boen

BWW: I am sure the community is thrilled that you have joined the Theatre. What have been some challenges you have had to face here? 

Shane: With the age of the building, there are definitely challenges, but we are upgrading and overcoming those issues to create great theater memories for both cast and audience members alike. I look forward to being part of many years of theater at the Rialto. A theater so rich in history has such potential to be a popular destination to see quality shows.  

As I delved deeper into the history of the Rialto, I spoke with Arts Council of Conway County Board Member David Garrett to tell me more about the theatre. 

David: Around 1990, the City Council had the anticipation of demolishing this building. Mayor Stewart Nelson stepped up, and he was the deciding vote on renovation. We started with grant money at about $30,000, and we got more later. But at that time, it was a triplex theater. There were three little movie theaters in here. The renovations took forever. This stage had to be completely rebuilt. The seats that we had in here were the old wooden theater seats, so we contacted people at Arkansas Repertory Theatre, and they gave us these seats since they were redoing their theater.  

BWW: That was nice of them. 

David: Then we started on the Massey Hardware store and turned it into an art gallery where we can host all sorts of events. When we started on that, it had serious problems with the holes in the ceiling. The city put a new roof on, we put one roof on, and they put another one on and it's just grown from that since then.  

Review: INTO THE WOODS at Rialto Community Theatre

BWW: So, what does INTO THE WOODS mean to the theatre? 

David: It should be a spark that would ignite other ventures here. We want our facilities to be used for public and private events.  

BWW: What else do we plan on having here besides this musical?  

David: Anything really. This is a great venue for concerts. We can seat 389 people. 

For more information about INTO THE WOODS or renting out The Rialto, visit their website at 

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