Theatre Mirror Reviews-"Into The Woods"

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entire contents copyright 2015 by Tony Annicone

"Into The Woods"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Norton Singers summer show is "Into the Woods", a musical with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine. It premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987 and ran for 764 performances starring Bernadette Peters as the Witch and Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife. It was made into a movie in 2014 starring Meryl Streep as the Witch. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them further to explore the consequences of the character's wishes and quests. These stories are combined with an original one about a Baker and his wife who are living under a curse by a witch causing them to unable to have a child. The Baker and his wife set off into the woods to break this curse. The other main characters include Red Riding Hood, Jack in the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel. Act 1 finds them pursuing "happily ever after" destinies. The second act explores what happens when they confront giants, mayhem, conflicts and disappointments. In the end they discover that perhaps happiness is found in living the tale and turning the pages. Director Courtney Bottomley and musical director Anthony Torelli come up victorious with this Sondheim show. The musical numbers in the first act are light and fluffy like the original fairy tales however it is the second act that really grabs you with its poignancy and power. This talented cast does terrific work on a difficult show to perform win a standing ovation as their reward.

Courtney not only directs the show beautifully but blocks it wonderfully, too. Her keen insight into the characters is right on the money. Anthony conducts a 15 piece orchestra and taught the hard working cast the intricate and tongue twisting songs. The harmonic balance between orchestra and cast is terrific.The set is by Courtney, Kayla Williams and Bob Molitor while the gorgeous costumes are by Joe Michienzie with lighting by Robert Moore and Thomas Nagata. The main character who runs in and out of all the fairy tales is the witch marvelously played with high energy by Esme Sammons. She brings a lot of depth to this role changing from an old hag into young beauty in the flash of an eye. Her first number is the tongue twisting song about the vegetables the Baker's father stole from her garden. She then placed a curse on them, preventing the Baker and his wife from having a baby. 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 remain in the tower and in "Witch's Lament" where she mourns the girl after the giant kills her. However it is her eleventh hour number called "The Last Midnight" that stops the show with its poignancy and power. This is a show stopping number and Esme enthralls the audience with her dynamic portrayal of this character.

Sam Bianco as the Baker and Valerie Cabral as the Baker's wife do many comic bits in the first act. However the power of their roles shine through when they tug at your heartstrings. They hunt for four things to break the curse including a finding a cow. They have other clever antics to liven up the proceedings with their wild machinations. They sing "It Takes Two" together when they realize they need each other to break the curse. One of Valerie's most poignant numbers is "Moments in the Woods" after her tryst with Cinderella's Prince. Sam's most poignant song is "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 wonderfully played by Melissa Franklin who has a gorgeous soprano voice. She stepped into this role 3 weeks before the show opened. Cinderella wants to go to the festival thrown by the king. Her voice soars in many numbers including"A Very Nice Prince" and "On the Steps of the Palace" but is most impressive in "No One is Alone" when she comforts Red Riding Hood by saying Red's mother and grandmother's spirits will always be with them.

Zoe Gillis is marvelous as Red Riding Hood. Her both parents, Greg and Jennifer Gillis are excellent performers so the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Red buys bread and sweets from the Baker for granny in the first act but devours everything before she gets there. Her encounter with the Wolf enlightens her in "I Know Things Now" and she becomes more bloodthirsty after she and her grandmother skin the Wolf. She carries a knife for protection for the rest of the show. Little Red Riding Hood learns one must be careful what they wish for. Christopher Starr plays the dimwitted Jack who sells his beloved cow, Milky White for the magic beans. He shows great depth in this role. Christopher displays his strong voice in "Giants in the Sky" where he learns a valuable lesson that there are consequences to your actions and that you shouldn't steal from others.

Brian Wolfe-Leonard does an wonderful job as the Narrator of the show and he also plays the mysterious man who has a secret he is hiding. Two of the biggest scene stealers in this show are the two princes. Greg Gillis as Cinderella's Prince and Anthony Rinaldi as Rapunzel's Prince stop the show with their hilarious song "Agony" which is my favorite. In the first act they are suffering because they can't get the girls while in the second they are in agony because they have the two women as their wives. They explain "Royalty can't make up its mind!" Their acting is sublime with just the right amount of pomposity. Greg also plays the Wolf, after he eats Granny, snores in bed and the Baker kills him. He sings "Hello Little Girl" with his daughter, Zoe. Gorgeous Ashley Wallace plays Rapunzel who is trapped high up in the tower. She also has a fantastic soprano voice. Ronni Marshak is hoot as Jack's cantankerous mother. Her laugh out loud moments come when she is yelling at Jack for being stupid and when she tells off the female giant who goes on a rampage after the death of her husband. So for a terrific rendition of this Sondheim show be sure to catch "Into The Woods" in Norton before they escape the woods for good.

"Into The Woods" (29 May - 7 June)
Wheaton College, 26 East Main Road, NORTON MA

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