INTO THE WOODS Review

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Leslie Turner as Cinderella's Stepmother, Grace Eichler as Florinda, Erin Nicole Donahue as Cinderella & Jeni Bayer Schwiers as Lucinda. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Leslie Turner as Cinderella’s Stepmother, Grace Eichler as Florinda, Erin Nicole Donahue as Cinderella & Jeni Bayer Schwiers as Lucinda. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

INTO THE WOODS presented by Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through Nov. 16. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening Sunday performance.

Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS is a personal favorite of mine, so it’s always fun to catch a new, local production. The Covedale Center does an excellent job of bringing this musical fairy-tale mash-up to life.

The musical opens with inter-woven scenes taking place in three houses. One belonging to Cinderella, one to the Baker and his wife, and the third home to Jack (of beanstalk fame) and his mother. Even though space is very tight, director Matthew Wilson does a great job of blocking which keeps the focus where it needs to be, without it looking like the cast is struggling in the space. And then the curtain opens revealing the woods.

Rodger Pille as The Baker & Michelle Wells as The Witch. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Rodger Pille as The Baker & Michelle Wells as The Witch. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Every production I have ever seen of INTO THE WOODS has been staged as a load-in/load-out set. This is the first time I have seen the woods built in a dedicated theater. Set designer Brett Bowling and his crew have created an elaborate set that is impressive to say the least. Multiple levels and exits, a long bridge, a stump and an angled fallen tree that can be walked on…so many options that Wilson takes complete advantage of in his staging.

INTO THE WOODS offers several unique design challenges and it is always interesting to see how each production handles them. Bowling has made many, smart decisions to meet the challenge. For the cow, Milky White, a puppet is used and given life by puppeteer Elizabeth Molloy to great effect. The Witch’s magic staff, the delivery of Cinderella’s dress, the freeing of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, the goose, and the growing beanstalk at the end of act one were great.

Erin Nicole Donahue as Cinderella, Allison Muennich as The Baker's Wife & Elizabeth Molloy as Milky White. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Erin Nicole Donahue as Cinderella, Allison Muennich as The Baker’s Wife & Elizabeth Molloy as Milky White. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

The show boasts an excellent cast that can handle the vocal demands of the show.The five person orchestra, under the direction of Michael Kennedy sounded great, and best of all, the sound design by Denny Reed and the sound execution allows audience members to hear it all. The only exception was the difficult “You’re Fault” which seemed a bit off in the timing, causing it to sound a bit “mumbly.” Also, the Witch’s transformation could have used a sound effect or music queue to enhance the moment.

Performances are solid across the cast. My personal favorites include Erin Nicole Donahue as Cinderella, Allison Muennich as The Baker’s Wife, Megan Ainsley Callahan as Little Red Riding Hood, Michelle Wells as the Witch and the Tylers…Tyler Kuhlman as Rapunzel’s Prince and Tyler Alessi as Cinderella’s Prince. A sure sign that the show is hitting the right emotional notes is me getting a little misty-eyed during the final “No One is Alone.”

The special make-up for the Witch and the Wolf by Randy Fabert looked great.

The cast. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

The cast. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Excellent work by costumer Caren Young. The costumes are colorful, well-fitting and detailed. Personal favorites include Cinderella’s ball gown, her Stepmother and step-sisters gawdy dresses, both Witch’s costumes (especially the green dress and purple-lined cloak that created a great silhouette when it moved), Little Red Riding Hood and both princes. I would have liked to have seen something under the Wolf’s vest, as the bare chest and arms looked too human.

As a whole, one of the best productions I have seen at the Covedale. Congratulations and I hope to see the momentum continue.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “INTO THE WOODS Review

  1. I avoided reading any reviews before seeing this film, so I’d have no expectations or prejudices. And in the opening moments, I thought I’d been rewarded. This was clearly nothing typical from Hollywood. The characters in period dress, singing their dialog, and the surprise of seeing Tracey Uhlman! I was delighted to see her attached to this project. It bode well! The camera focused on the actors, and not the CGI. Since I knew nothing of the story, I wondered if it would be another LES MISERABLES. But as it unfolded, the “sing-song” lyrics that I hoped would evolve into grand musical numbers got a bit tiresome, and a slow leak began to hiss from my enthusiasm. It needed more…something. OK, so we’ve been introduced to childhood fairy tale themes, and maybe they’re going to weave them together somehow. Well they attempted to, but not in an imaginative way. Merle Streep as the witch. I thought there might have been a dash of Margaret Hamilton in her initial appearance, but no…Streep was taking it elsewhere. The first glimmer of genuine music came with Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf. Cheesy makeup, but I can overlook that, the scene still works. I thought Chris Pine as the Prince was the stand-out performance. My guess is that this characterization is what the screenwriters had in mind for the entire project…funny, hammy, over the top, but enjoyable. And consistent. But the other characters, with their occasional surprisingly bad dialog, never attained it. Streep’s performance became irritating. The other characters bounced between light comedy and out-of-place drama. I gave up any hope of this being an actual musical, and over half-way through, the sing-songy dialog ceased all together, for no apparent reason. It was like the assistant director took over while the big guy went to lunch. Eventually, we the audience stumbled out of a forest of confusion, and see what looks like the end of the story. I resisted looking at my watch the whole time, and thought, well that wasn’t bad, but…wrong. The story plunged back into an irritating forest of heavy-handed seriousness, with thorns of what again attempted to be musical dialog. I had had enough. This could have been spin on the PRINCESS BRIDE, but it got LOST (somewhere) IN TRANSLATION. On the plus side, I was impressed that this thing got the green light from an industry that loves formulaic stories that at least promise to get production costs back. I hope they will with this one. Thirty minutes too long, and btw…Stephen Sondheim? Really?

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