BWW Reviews: STAGEright's Minimalist INTO THE WOODS Alive with Character
All too often in musical theater the performers have pretty voices but do the standard "park and bark" and just belt out those tunes with no character or story behind it. Such is not the case with the 12 person ensemble of STAGEright's current production of "Into the Woods" who not only sang the Sondheim score beautifully but also managed a ton of both comedic and dramatic timing to actually convey their characters (many of whom had multiple characters) making this one of the best productions I've seen.
For those of you who've been living under a rock for the past several years, it's Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's take on fairy tales. There's Cinderella (Mallory King), Little Red Riding Hood (Sophia Franzella), The Baker and his Wife (Nik Hagen and Jessi Little) who've had a curse put on them by a witch (Olivia Lee), and Jack (Ben Wynant) and the Beanstalk. And all these stories overlap with each other until they reach their happily ever after. But once they do, then the real story starts as all the characters still yearn for more beyond their dreams leading to tumultuous consequences.
It's definitely one of the favorites from Sondheim (even more so now with the movie) which is why it's done so often. But what director Matt Giles has done is to scale down the cast, doubling and even tripling the parts and presenting it without lavish props and sets but with the mere suggestions of them leaving it to the actors and audience to fill in the blanks. This bare bones presentation style has been more and more popular as of late and I personally love it as it gives a more engaged and rich experience for the viewer. And Giles' wonderfully fun staging lends itself perfectly to the style creating a cool and simple tone that lets the story just tell itself.
The entire ensemble is completely on board for the experience and throws themselves head first into their characters. Lee works the evil nature of the witch without all the makeup and prosthetics you usually find and still manages to make her the perfect baddie. Wynant and Franzella are at the same time adorable and disturbing as the two younger characters each trying to find who they are. King manages the Disney Princess of Cinderella aspect but then still takes her beyond the standard stereotype. Nathan Brockett and Faith Howes turn in hilarious double duty as both the dashing yet deluded Princes after the fair maidens as well as Cinderella's evil Stepsisters. And Hagen and Little completely nail the struggling yet loving relationship of the Baker and his wife. And I especially want to call out Hagen who not only sang it beautifully but managed a stunning story arc of the Baker. At first I thought him a bit too young for the role but he completely wowed and ultimately gave one of the best Bakers I've seen.
It's tough to thrill me with this show. I've seen it numerous times both live and in filmed versions. And I love the show but it's difficult to make it anything to me more than a solid presentation of what I've already seen. Well STAGEright's production goes beyond the solid and makes it all fresh and fun and so with my three letter rating system I give it a satisfied little sigh of a YAY. They managed to keep a smile on my face throughout and even choke me up a little at the end. And that's what I call happily ever after.
"Into the Woods" from STAGEright performs at Richard Hugo House through April 25th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlestageright.org.
Photo credit: Dan Davidson