Review: INTO THE WOODS at Arden Theatre

Currently running and now extended until July 10, 2022

By: Jun. 10, 2022
Review: INTO THE WOODS at Arden Theatre
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Review: INTO THE WOODS at Arden Theatre

The excitement of live theater equally matched the excitement that soared from the powerful ensemble cast of Into the Woods at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia. Minimalistic set pieces and costumes made way for both the performers and award-winning material to shine. With an intimate orchestra pit and powerful Sondheim singers, the lavish score flourished in the audience in a harmonious way.

Into the Woods, Act 1, is a modern take on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales in a musical format that follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (and the Beanstalk), and Rapunzel-all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife who wish to begin a family. Act 2 shows what happens to the main characters after their 'happily ever afters'. A flat stage with a painted "Once Upon a Time" book cover allowed the actors to leap off the pages of the book to create a stellar performance piece. Directed by Terrence J. Nolan, this production of Into the Woods is a must-see work of art. Nolan creates a brilliant canvas to allow the actors to tell the stories of life, love, hope, wishes, disappointments, and loss that were ever-so intelligently crafted by the book writer, James Lapine. Music Director Ryan Touhey, along with Assistant Music Director Gina Giachero, delivered not only some amazing music that delighted the audience, but this reviewer also noticed that each lyric was carefully placed and executed by the entire cast to enhance the storytelling of the characters' thoughts, desires, and disappointments.

Scott Greer delivers a strong and comedic performance that moved the audience from his touching advancement inside the story (as Mysterious Man) and his outside telling of the story (as Narrator). As Cinderella, Alia Munsch delivers a light-hearted performance as the story begins and enchantingly builds into a character of great strength and compassion throughout the show. Ellis Gage warms the heart with his brave yet compassionate performance as Jack. Ellis has excellent mother/son chemistry with the beautiful acting and vocals of Mary Elizabeth Scallen as Jack's Mother. Excellent performances that also made the evening so spectacular were graciously shared with the audience by Brenson Thomas, as the Stewart / Granny / Cinderella's Father / Hen, Jessy Gruver, as Cinderella's Mother, and Kim Carson's strong and commanding performance as The Witch.

Award-winning actor, Ben Dibble, gives yet another brilliant performance as the Baker with some of the most powerful vocals this reviewer ever heard singing this role. As equally powerful and beautiful is Katherine Fried and the Baker's Wife. Fried's "Moments in the Woods" is exquisite. Shining the spotlight on another incredible talent, Grace Ellis Solomon brings Little Red Riding Hood from strength to surrender over the course of the production with excellent timing, acting and singing.

A standing ovation is in order for Anna Faye Lieberman, Vanessa Sterling, and the incomparable Garrick Vaughan as they each tackle three different roles a piece, which often only have a split second to transition from one character to the next using their physicality, voice, expression, and delivery. Vanessa Sterling as Florinda /Rapunzel's Prince Golden Harp and Anna Faye Lieberman as Rapunzel / Cinderella's Mother / Milk White demonstrate what inventive and strong acting is all about. The reviewer was mesmerized by the vocals, acting, and talents of Garrick Vaughan who gleamed with his various roles in Cinderella's Prince / Wolf / Lucinda. Garrick Vaughan and Vanessa Sterling's renditions of Agony in both the first and second acts were showstoppers. The witch's plea to her daughter Rapunzel was another powerful and moving interval of powerful acting and vocals shared between Kim Carson (as the Witch) and Anna Faye Lieberman (as Rapunzel) performing "Stay With me".

The Arden Theatre's production of Into the Woods is one of Philadelphia's must-see performances of 2022. Into the Woods has been extended to run until July 10th.