Wednesday, August 7, 2013

INTO THE WOODS • Ozark Actors Theatre

Road trip!!

OAT's season closer, "Into the Woods", was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's 1976 book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  In Sondheim and Lapine's 1987 Tony award winning morality tale, familiar storybook characters, along with a few new ones, venture into a dark forest for different reasons.  They may be known from children's stories, but these woods -- an allegorical rite of passage of sorts, offer up some hard lessons and somber themes for the group that leave the lot of them changed from when their journey began.

After the opening line, "Once upon a time…", our Narrator (Lanin Thomasma) introduces us to our primary players -- Cinderella (Sabra Sellers), Jack (Michael Detmer) and a Baker and his wife (Blane Pressler and Brittany Proia), whose wishes force them all "into the woods".  Cinderella wants to go to the King's Festival and Jack is ordered by his mother (Laura Light) to head to the market to sell his best friend, the family cow, Milky White (Rebecca Light).

Brittany Proia (Baker's Wife), Blane Pressler (Baker)
and Kelly Campbell (The Witch).
Photo credit: Jason Cannon
The Baker and his wife are childless, and learn from the witch next door that she had placed a curse on the Baker's father years earlier as punishment for special beans he took from her beloved garden.  In order to have a child, the Baker must fetch four things for the witch.  The quest for these things (“The cow as white as milk, The cape as red as blood, The hair as yellow as corn, The slipper as pure as gold”) is what drives the Baker, with his wife following behind, into the woods.  Little Red Ridinghood (Natalie Sannes) is headed through the woods too.  She stops by the Baker's house on the way to her grandmother's, and supplies herself with an ample stockpile of baked goods before she heads off.

Gregory Cuellar (The Wolf) and Natalie Sannes (Little Red).
Photo credit: Jason Cannon
The plot thickens when all of their stories are entwined with additional characters we meet, including two princes (Gregory Cuellar and Benjamin Wegner), a ravenous wolf (Gregory Cuellar), and the imprisoned Rapunzel (Jenna Light), locked in a tower -- put there by the witch who raised Rapunzel as her own.  Before long, Little Red has a run-in with the wolf, who's just about ready for lunch, the Baker and his wife trade some "magic" beans for Jack's cow, Cinderella finds herself uncertain once she draws the eye of one of the handsome princes, and Jack has an adventure with giants once he climbs a beanstalk.  (The plot REALLY thickens.)  Still, everything suggests a "happily ever after" ending when they get what they want by the end of a seemingly complete first act.  But the choices they make bring consequences that come back to bite them in act two, and they end up getting the lessons they deserve, while coming to rely on each other for comfort, and working on their predicaments together.

Gregory Cuellar (Cinderella's Prince),
Benjamin Wegner (Rapunzel's Prince)
and Sabra Sellers (Cinderella).
Photo credit: Jason Cannon
Under the insightful direction of artistic director, Jason Cannon, the cast and crew did a fine job with a challenging show.  Sondheim's intricate lyrics, easy to miss on a first listening, are tough to pull off, but although the skills and vocal talents of the cast were varied, the standouts did a wonderful job with Pressler as the Baker and Proia as the Baker's Wife leading the way.  They both have strong voices and handled the score very nicely while doling out humorously believable husband and wife moments.  Cuellar was marvelous as the wolf, and he and Wegner made for a couple of dashing, funny and over-the-top (in a good way) princes.


The cast of "Into the Woods".
Photo credit: Jason Cannon
Sannes, perfectly cast as Little Red, turned in a charming performance going from a trusting innocent to a knife-wielding pelt-wearer, and Sellers gave the sweet-hearted Cinderella a realistically confused ambivalence, and played up her comedic bits well.  Detmer is a lovably doltish Jack, and Campbell gives The Witch an unpredictably modern quality.  Thomasma helped to ground the show with his portrayal of the Narrator as well as the Mysterious Old Man.  Everyone was costumed handsomely by Laura Cook, and Kevin Shaw's scenic design offered a rich backdrop mural of a deep forest and efficient use of an area house right for the tree that marked the grave of Cinderella's mother and Rapunzel's tower.  He's also responsible for the lighting that spotlights the fast-moving action well and provided an overall eerie tone.  Katie Guzzi's sound design was fine but I wish the orchestra could have been a little beefier to provide more depth to the music, but the score was delivered admirably.

You've got until the 11th to check out a classic that doesn't come around every day.  It's an entertaining trek worth taking.


The cast of "Into the Woods".
Photo credit: Jason Cannon
INTO THE WOODS

Book by James Lapine
Music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Jason Cannon
The Cedar Street Playhouse, 701 North Cedar, Rolla MO, 65401
through August 11 | tickets: $12 - $20
Performances Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 2 & 7:30pm, Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Blane Pressler* (Baker), Brittany Proia* (Baker's Wife), Sabra Sellers* (Cinderella), Kelly Campbell (The Witch), Jeff Williams (Cinderella's Father), Gregory Cuellar (Cinderella's Prince/The Wolf), Rachel Collins (Florinda), Kati Edwards (Lucinda),

Rebecca Light (Milky White), Michael Detmer (Jack)
and Lanin Thomasma (Mysterious Old Man).
Photo credit: Jason Cannon
Susan Holmes (Cinderella's Stepmother), Amy Arthur (Granny/Cinderella's Mother/Voice of the Giant), Michael Detmer (Jack), Laura Light (Jack's Mother), Natalie Sannes (Little Red), Lanin Thomasma (Narrator/Mysterious Old Man), Jenna Light (Rapunzel), Benjamin Wegner (Rapunzel's Prince), Steve Skelton (Steward) and Rebecca Light (Milky White).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic & lighting design by Kevin Shaw; costume designer, Laura Cook; sound design by Katie Guzzi; musical direction by Dave Maglione; stage manager, Jim Welch.

Musicians:
Musical director and piano, Dave Maglione; keyboard, Rebecca Grow; percussion: drums, Marty Munz; percussion: vibraphone, bells, xylophone, Amy Mazzzeo.

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