BWW REVIEW: Ritz Theatre's INTO THE WOODS…Charms

BWW REVIEW: Ritz Theatre's INTO THE WOODS…Charms"Into the Woods" must be first of all charming; the shadows fall later. Sondheim's brilliant music and lyrics, paired with James Lapine's excellent book, are weird and wonderful enough on their own, and this production, directed by Craig Hutchings allows that quirky charm, dark humor and human conflict to unfold naturally. All the famous Grimm's characters - Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (beanstalk), and others come together in this beguiling marriage of enchantment and anxiety, which opens up after those well-known, happy-ending stories end.

As with many of Ritz' productions, this one is as good as it gets. With a stellar cast,BWW REVIEW: Ritz Theatre's INTO THE WOODS…Charms who'd better be on top of this one, and they certainly are, to the clever set designs by Joshua Bessinger and creative lighting by Jen Donsky they construct the magic that happens. Not to be underestimated is the hard working pit crew who breathe life into a cleverly complicated score.

Into the Woods debuted in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986, and premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987. Bernadette Peters's performance as the Witch and Joanna Gleason's portrayal of the Baker's Wife brought acclaim to the production during its original Broadway run. Into the Woods won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason) Sondheim's "woods" is a place of illusion and stark reality, the playground and proving ground of life itself. It's a retreat, an enchanted place where wondrous moments can happen. But it's also a testing ground for moral strength and resilience. The woods can be welcoming or terrifying, shimmering with light or gloomy darkness.

BWW REVIEW: Ritz Theatre's INTO THE WOODS…CharmsAs for the Ritz mostly principal cast, well, "Maybe They're Magic" or just a hard working talented lot, carefully selected to pull off each character with great panache. So many standout performers; starting with Joshua Bessinger (Baker) with passion and a beautiful voice to Zachary Moore (Jack) making his Ritz debut played with great enthusiasm. As for the popular Prince roles, Anthony Crosby (Rapunzel's Prince) and Michael J. DeFlorio (Cinderella's Prince/Wolf) are so wickedly enjoyable to watch. Their "Agony" is an audience's treat, for sure. Both are animated and delightfully "awful "characters as are written.

As for the ladies, the much sought after role of the witch is played wonderfully by BWW REVIEW: Ritz Theatre's INTO THE WOODS…CharmsJennie Knackstedt as Wood's witch sings "I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right". Knackstedt is all of these as well as entertaining and "right' for this role. Jenna Lubas (Cinderalla) and Jamie Talamo (Rapunzel) deliver their roles and with passion and lovely voices. The Baker's wife (Megan Ruggles) shines throughout the production as husband, Ryan Ruggles narrates the show with clarity and wit and doubles as the old man in the woods. Michele Romond handles the daunting task of keeping 20 cast members moving flawlessly through the woods with the choreography segments of this fast paced piece.

INTO THE WOODS- plays at the Ritz Theatre, Oaklyn NJ through November 18. For Tickets and information visit www.ritztheatreco.org or call 856.858.5230

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From This Author Pati Buehler

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