note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Nestled on Cross Street in Winchester is a charming, small venue that produces some bigtime plays and musicals with fine casts and finesse. Nextdoor Center for the Arts current presentation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 2-1/2-hour musical, “Into the Woods,” features award-winning Boston actress-director-educator Maryann Zschau as the witch and several talented Boston-area performers. They’re aptly accompanied by six musicians, led by conductor-pianist Brett Hinkel, who keep the tempo and volume low-key, enabling performers to shine.
Director Brian Milauskas, who is nextdoor’s producing artistic director, also designed a handsome, impressive set, with white birches, knocked-down castle columns, nooks and crannies with multi purposes, serving as the mysterious forest, Cinderella’s home, Jack and his mother’s village home, where his beanstalk grows, Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s home in the forest, Rapunzel’s cloistered tower, and the Baker and his wife’s shop/home, next door to the ugly witch and her fertile garden. The princes‘ castle is somewhere off in the distance as the two royal brothers romp into the woods, seeking their loves, crooning, “Agony”. Eerie voices echo offstage during scenes with the Giant’s vengeful wife.
Erik Fox’s lighting carefully spotlights characters as the fractured fairy tales appear simultaneously, threaded by James Tallach as the tuxedoed narrator, martini in hand, who doubles as a mysterious stranger. He’s also the choreographer.
Although Sondheim and Lapine take whimsical license with these grim fairy tales, there are serious life lessons they bang away at, through frequent reprises of theme song, “Into the Woods” and the comforting, “No One is Alone”. They warn you to be careful what you wish for; children should listen to their parents; be wary of strangers, regardless of their friendly demeanor; that the woods are filled with scary, strange, weird creatures; and there’s safety in numbers.
Whether she’s a bent-over, ugly witch with a huge proboscis and gnarled, taloned fingers or a magically transformed bewitching beauty who loses her powers, Maryann Zschau effectively portrays the witch with maternal sensitivity. She’s a lonely witch who was enchanted and transformed, but underneath, she’s an overly protective adoptive mother to lovely, blonde-tressed Rapunzel, whom she locked up in a tower to shield her from mankind’s evil and the world’s dangers. Her heart-wrenching solos, begging Rapunzel not to leave in “Stay With Me,” and her “Witch’s Lament” are soulful.
Besides Zschau, several cast members are outstanding, including Ashley Korolewski as Cinderella, Adrienne Paquin as Rapunzel, Angela Richardson as the baker’s wife, and Ronny Pompeo in his dual roles, as Cinderella’s wandering prince and Little Red Riding Hood’s lurid wolf.
Also,Ross Brown as simpleton Jack, of giant and the beanstalk fame, Sarajane Mullins as gluttonous Little Red Riding Hood, (who, in real life, is Pompeo’s fiancee), and Kevin Parise as Rapunzel’s hapless prince lend fine harmony and humor. Overall, this cast shines, taking theatergoers on a musical walk to the detoured, fairy tale wild side.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical appearing through March 24, at nextdoor Center for the Arts, 40-50 Cross St., Winchester. Performances are Friday, Saturday, March 16,17,23,24, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m.; Thursday, March 15,22, at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seats are $25; students, seniors, $20. Call 781-729-NEXT (6398) or visit .