Review: INTO THE WOODS at Lichgate

Wanderlust on Location presents "Into the Woods," a site-specific experience.

By: Nov. 16, 2022
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Review: INTO THE WOODS at Lichgate
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"Into the Woods": What happens if fairy tales go awry?

The Wanderlust Theatre on Location production of "Into the Woods" didn't have control over much. Except for the mammoth patriarch oak on the property at Lichgate on High Road, which obeyed gravity, most other pieces of the immersive, outdoor production were subject to being moved, run into or blown away.

The location, a fairy tale cottage and historical gardens on several acres tucked away from bustling Tallahassee, Fla., apartment complexes and businesses, is as much a character as the human actors. In addition, it sets the tone for the fact that this show is one of contrasts.

Every "Into the Woods" audience member undoubtedly arrived with some fairy tales socked away in their heads, perhaps from childhood or maybe the versions they told their own children. "Into the Woods" turns everyone's fairy tales on their heads.

Originating in 1987, with music by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, "Into the Woods" follows four interwoven storylines. The Baker (Michael Mello) and The Baker's Wife (Whitney Snow) desperately want a child, while Jack (Aaron Collins) wants nothing more than for his cow to provide milk. Cinderella (Madison Johnson) wants to go to the king's festival and Little Red (Kayla-Elizabeth Mayzen) wants to visit her grandmother.

Audience members who arrive with a little time to spare get an immediate clue that this will be no run-of-the-mill production of "Into the Woods." While walking the perimeter of the show's environment, two princes teach audience members how to play beer pong while Cinderella's stepmother (Ej Dowling) and stepsisters (Rheanne Walton and Alexandra Rios) critique participants' attire and trade light, sarcastic banter.

The Narrator (Nolan Howard) provides a presence that mingles matter-of-factness and wonder throughout the show. Don't know what to expect? He'll get you there.

From the moment the Witch (Samantha Serrano) visits the Baker and the Baker's Wife and explains her role in their life, there's a sense that this couple has been wronged, but also that she has more dimensions than she originally lets on. With her beaky nose and the big voice coming out of her petite body, she sets up a throughline that centers the show.

Mello's Baker mingles dedication to having a child and exasperation at the extreme lengths he and his wife will go to as they seek the four items from the forest that will ostensibly change their fates.

Every time the cast members venture into the forest arm in arm, determined to achieve their goals, singing "Into the Woods," they seem to be unified forever. Over the course of the show, that unity is often shattered - when dreams aren't aligned, when people take what they need at the expense of others and when magic beans turn out to have a downside.

Most "Into the Woods" performances also don't have a selfie-obsessed Red Riding Hood. Kayla-Elizabeth Mayzen plays the role with an enchanting combination of vulnerability and nerve. This girl wants to play hard (but she also wants her Granny (Paige Brey)).

The prince's steward (Geoffrey Place) could have just stepped onto the set from one of Tallahassee's bars with his nondescript black outfit and "SECURITY" emblazoned on his shirt. His charge, Prince Charming (Santos Sanchez), has a fun rapport with Rapunzel's Prince (Gordon Cunningham). Maybe they worked up that rapport teaching audience members to play beer pong. Their version of "Agony" is full of bravado and edginess.

One of the many challenges of an outdoor, immersive production is staging. The Lichgate oak does provide a stunning backdrop, but that doesn't solve the problem of Rapunzel's (Emma Finnegan) tower, a giant beanstalk or a baker's home. These are solved with ladders for the tower and beanstalk, and a tent for the home. One of the most creative props is also the simplest: a "flock" of birds suspended from wooden dowels. Another animal prop, Jack's cow, is whimsical in its almost farcical appearance.

Into the Woods
Cinderella (Madison Johnson) and the Narrator (Nolan Howard)

Jack's mother (Paige Brey), clad in her robe and foam rollers, engenders audience empathy as she tries to come to terms with Jack's reluctance to give up his beloved cow as they contemplate its sale.

Woman in rollers, young man with white cow and a boy reading a book.
Jack's Mother (Paige Brey) and Jack (Aaron Collins)

In a show where the actors had to compete with a boundless black sky twinkling with stars, this complex exploration of fairy tales held its own. Pulling off a site-specific production was not simple for numerous reasons, but the work paid off under a tree that has quietly watched over people figuring things out for centuries.

Maybe Little Red caught it all on her cellphone. It'll make a heck of a social media post.

Laura Hope-London directs "Into the Woods," which features a live orchestra, stage management by Madeline Hull and technical direction by Derek Sands.

Into the Woods
Full cast of "Into the Woods"

Photo Credits: Erich Martin