The New Place Players summer mainstage show is "Into the Woods", a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine. It premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987 and ran 764 performances starring Bernadette Peters as the Witch and Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife. This show was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's 1976 book, "The Uses of Enchantment". The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them further to explore the consequences of the characters wishes and quests. The characters some new and some familiar set out into the woods on a quest. Act One sees them pursuing "happily-ever-after'' destinies. The musical's second half explores what happens after "happily-ever-after"as the characters confront giants, mayhem, conflict and disappointment. In the end, they discover that perhaps happiness is simply found in living the tale and turning the pages. The main characters are taken from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella, tied together by an original tale about a Baker and his wife and their quest to start a family. Director Chris Silva is also the musical director who plays lead keyboards and conducts the topnotch 8 piece orchestra with his inventive choreography. He obtains remarkable results with this Sondheim show. The musical numbers in the first act are light and fluffy like the original fairy tales but it is the second act that really grabs you with its poignancy and power. This multitalented cast does magnificent work on this very difficult show to perform and win a standing ovation as their reward.
Chris not only directs the show excellently but blocks it superbly, too. He obtains every laugh and ounce of pathos from his performers. Chris' harmonic blend of his cast is amazing. He creates one of the best versions I have seen of this show. I last reviewed Chris as an actor in 2002 in "Merrily We Roll Along". The main character who runs in and out of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and The Baker and his wife is the witch marvelously played with high energy by Laura Gustafson. She brings a lot of depth to this role changing from old hag to young beauty in the flash of an eye. Her first song is about the vegetables the Baker's father stole and she puts a curse on the Baker's father for stealing them, preventing the Baker and his wife from having a baby. Laura handles the tongue twisting lyrics with ease. The witch only shows warmth to her adopted or rather stolen daughter, Rapunzel in her songs "Stay with Me'' where she wants the girl to stay trapped in her tower and in "Witch's Lament" where she mourns her after the giant kills her. Laura stops the show with her "The Last Midnight" song. Chris has her moving about the stage during this number which brings out the poignancy perfectly. She plays this demanding role superbly, capturing the hearts of the audience while doing so. I first reviewed Laura in "Charlie Brown" at RIC in 2000. Brava!
Tim Valton II as the Baker and Lyn Soderlund Smith as the Baker's wife do many comic bits in the first act but the power of their roles really shines through when they tug at your heartstrings in the second act. They hunt for four things to break the curse including finding a white cow. They have other crazy antics that liven up the proceedings with their wild machinations. Lyn's "Moments in the Woods" after her tryst with Cinderella's prince is very poignant. His most poignant and emotion packed song is the duet with his father in "No More" after the giant kills his wife. The audience is left in tears at the close of this number. The role of Cinderella is played by pretty red head, Megan McNulty who has a gorgeous soprano voice. She wants to go to the festival being thrown by the King. Her voice soars in many numbers but is most impressive in "No One is Alone" where she comforts Red Riding Hood by saying her dead mother and grandmother's spirits will never leave her. Megan's voice is terrific and her acting is topnotch in this role, too.Tabby Newman who is a pretty brunette, beautifully plays Red Riding Hood. She buys bread and sweets from the Baker in the first act for granny but devours it before she gets to her house. Her encounter with the wolf enlightens her in "I Know Now". She becomes stronger and a little more blood thirsty when she and granny skin the wolf. Red Riding Hood carries the knife for protection during the rest of the show and eventually learns that you have to be careful what you wish for. Matt Silva plays the dimwitted Jack excellently. His comic quips and sayings especially "I have a harp and a cow for a friend now" are priceless. Jack sells his beloved cow, Milky White for the magic beans. Matt displays his phenomenal tenor voice in the group numbers , "I Guess this is Goodbye" when he sells his cow and "Giants in the Sky" where he learns you shouldn't steal from others or else there will be serious consequences to your actions. He shows great depth in this role proving that Matt has a bright future in show business.
James Lucey does a marvelous job as the narrator of the show. His strong authoritative voice rensonates in this role. Eric Parks plays the mysterious man who has a secret that he is hiding. Two of the biggest scene stealers are the two princes, James Fernandes as Cinderella's Prince and Christopher Crider-Plonka as Rapunzel's Prince. They stop the show with their hilarious song "Agony" which is my favorite song in the show. In the first act they are suffering because they can't obtain the girls they want to be their wives while in the second act their agony is because they have these two women as their wives. Their explain that "Royalty just can't make up its mind." Their acting is terrific with the right amount of pomposity in these roles. James also plays the wolf. When the wolf snores in bed is when the Baker realizes who he is and kills him saving Red and granny. Gorgeous Kelsey Miranda plays Rapunzel who is trapped in a high tower. She also has a fantastic soprano voice. Emily Hague is a hoot as Jack's cantankerous mother. Her laugh out loud moments come whether she is yelling at Jack for being stupid or when she is telling off the female giant who goes on a rampage after the death of her husband. Kudos to all the cast members who do a terrific job in this very difficult Sondheim show. So for a topnotch rendition of "Into The Woods" be sure to catch this show by New Place Players in Fall River. Tell them Tony sent you. Run do not walk to the box office before the tickets are sold out.