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Review: INTO THE WOODS at The Barnstormers

Review: INTO THE WOODS at The Barnstormers

A journey well taken

The journey from "Once Upon a Time" to "Happily Ever After" takes a few sinister detours in the 92nd season opener production of Into the Woods at The Barnstormers theater in Tamworth, New Hampshire.

This acclaimed musical mixes the plots of several classic fairytales into one imaginative story with unexpected consequences for the characters we have come to know and love since childhood.

Mind you, this is not a children's show. Think of it as fairy tales for adults. And under the able direction of Barnstormers veteran, Clayton Phillips, the show is a wonderful blend of storytelling combined with the intrinsically challenging musical score and lyrics by Broadway legend, Stephen Sondheim. It is well worth the journey to find this production of Into the Woods.

The story begins with a humble narrator (Kieran Danaan) who describes a woods populated with a world of dark and dysfunctional characters. There is a sharp tongued and ravishingly hungry Little Red Riding Hood (Maya Christian), her grandma and provocative wolf (Robert St. Laurence), a not so bright Jack (Santiago Sepulveda) of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, his nagging Mother (Karla C. Payne) and pet cow, Milky White.

There's also Cinderella (Mallory Newbrough), her wicked stepmother, (Penny Purcell) wicked stepsisters, Florinda (Dyllan Vallier) and Lucinda (Vincent Pelligrino) and a deeply troubled and neglected child, Rapunzel (Sara LaFlamme).

But most of the action takes place in the roles of the Baker and his wife, (played by Michael Ursua and Mary McNulty), along with two lovelorn princes, one pining for Cinderella (Robert St. Laurence) the other for Rapunzel (Lee Hollis Bussie).

And if that were not enough to give you bedtime story nightmares, there's a ragged old witch (Cheryl Mullings) who leaves a path of magic spells and mystical doings.

In this wonderful mix of fairy tales, all of act one is spent wishing for things and making them come true, while the second act depicts a not so delightful world that disintegrates into disasters.

Ursua and McNulty own the evening in their wonderfully portrayals of the baker and wife. Ursua has a Mel Torme-ish velvety voice who plays the role with a kindness and compassion that is heartwarming. He's especially calming in "No More" and "No One is Alone."

McCulty oozes charm and beauty in a role that's playful, amusing and endearing. Her "Moments in the Woods" and "A Very Nice Prince" add a nice flair to the song selection and "It Takes Two" with Ursua shows their great chemistry on stage.

St. Laurence and Bussie create stage magic with their overbearing and ego driven princes. With well time nuance and appropriate moments of overacting, their number "Agony" and its reprise are comic gems.

Newbrough's Cinderella is done with Disney-esque flair and Christian's Red Riding Hood makes you smile a lot especially in the number, "I Know Things Now." Sepulveda is a vocal powerhouse as Jack, not to be outdone by LaFlamme's Rapunzel.

Danaan is great storyteller as narrator and the mysterious character. Too bad he doesn't make it to the end of the show.

Mullings, in her ninth season at The Barnstormers, rises to the vocal challenge as the witch. She has the range to cover the vocal expanse of a Sondheim score. She could have a bit more fun exploring levels of her character; evil versus playful and bold vocals against softer tunes to be a bit more endearing to the audience.

And as for the witches' transformation scenes, the production staff might get a bit more creative with the quick costume change from evil witch to pretty witch and her last disappearance from the stage. These scenes should wow the audience. The opening night ones were flat and uninspiring.

Scenic Designer, Jonathan Dahm Robertson creates a very deep forest in a small stage at The Barnstormers theater. Multiple levels with a stylized slatted fence motive forest works well. Music director, Bret Silverman, brings a robust sound from the small pit orchestra.

In her preshow welcoming speech, artistic director, Sarah Rozene announced the installation of a new sound system in the theater. While it made most of the stage action crisp and clear, there were occasional lapses in actor's microphones and the balance between orchestra and vocals were a bit out of balance. Not always, but occasionally.

While some might consider The Barnstormers located in the middle of nowhere, Tamworth, New Hampshire is well worth the trip for a summer theater experience. There's history in the theater and a proud tradition of excellence that will make the journey "into the woods" an extremely rewarding one.

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From This Author - Dan Marois

It was his time growing up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where Dan Marois “got the bug” for theater and entertainment. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Boston University... (read more about this author)

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