Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Into The Woods"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Into The Woods

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Scott Gagnon
Orchestra Director Rob Rucinski
Vocal Director Jose Elizondo

Set Design by Jennifer Condon
Lighting Design by Stuart Levine
Sound Design by Ara Knaian
Costume Goddess Sheridan Zabel
Stage Manager Elicia Anderson

Baker............................Youngmoo Kim
Baker's Wife....................Cara Loughlin
Cinderella.........................Mary Tsien
Cinderella's Father/Steward.......Kevin Doyle
Rapunzel/Cinderella's Mother....Jeri Champion
Cinderella's Stepmother...........Kathy Vaeth
Florinda.........................Randi Kestin
Lucinda.................Rachael Lea Leventhal
Little Red Riding Hood........Teresa DiGenova
Grandmother/Voice of Giant........Jax Kirtley
Wolf/Rapunzel's Prince..........Jamez Kirtley
Cinderella's Prince.........Alan DeLespinasse
Jack....................John C. (Jace) Harker
Jack's Mother...........Kristin Hughes DeVivo
Milky White......................Pete Gamache
Narrator/Mysterious Man.............Jake Yara
Sleeping Beauty...............Elicia Anderson
Snow White....................Jennifer Condon
Witch............................Teresa Raine

ORCHESTRA
Conductor........Robert Rucinski
Flute..............Jacob Strauss
Clarinet...........Eric Mumpower
Tenor Saxophone.....Paul Van Eyk
Trumpet..........Thomas Reynolds
French Horn.........Liana Lareau
Trombone..........Joanna Gaunder
Piano................Will Koffel
Synthesizer........Jose Elizondo
Percussion.........Jeremy Nimmer
Violin............Johanna Bobrow
Viola................Jeff Bigler
String Bass........David Weisman


Imagine trying to do a Sondheim musical with no frills. Imagine taking away the plush curtains and second-balcony seats and expensive costumes and mikes and amps and magnificent sets. Imagine doing it with good to adequate voices and undergraduate actors and non-professional musicians. Imaging getting a guy to play Milky White, the cow! Better yet, don't imagine it, because the Musical Theatre Guild at MIT is doing "Into The Woods" in the Kresge Little Theatre for one more week-end, and it works.

With most of the trappings gone, the Guild production concentrates on the words, the story, and the commentary on the original fairy- tale material. Here we have a Jack (Jace Harker) who is the ultimate nerd in love with animals, a Cinderella (Mary Tsien) whose marriage turns her into a princess with a social conscience, a Rapunzel (Jeri Champion) bored out of her skull, a lounge-lizard Wolf (Jamez Kirtley) doubling (with Alan DeLespinasse) as a pair of male-chauvinist egotists both called Prince Charming, and a silent Cow (Peter Gamache) --- wearing braids! --- with eloquently expressive gestures and a surprising death-scene so elaborate as to bring the audience to their feet shouting "Let him die again!"

The dialog here has the crackle of intelligent wit, the cast is aware every moment of what is funny and why, and even with the shadows of dilemma and death darkening the second act and fairy tale becoming harsh reality the interplay of cooperating characters is clear and engrossing. Director Scott Gagnon has kept his cast briskly moving from magic moment to magic moment, assuring everyone a moment to make their own.

Robert Rucinski who directs the orchestra and Jose Elizondo who directed the singers also managed creditable performances of the Sondheim music using people whose lives are something other than professional performing. In particular Kristin Hughes DeVivo (Jack's Mother), Youngmoo Kim (The Baker), Jeri Champion (Rapunzel) and Mary Tsien (Cinderella) are in fine, full voice. Teresa Raine in the big role of The Witch dominates the major moments of the drama, proving from time to time that singing softly but expressively can be just as riveting as any fortissimo.

Jennifer Condon's simple set-pieces and woodsy background move about the stage revealing several subtle surprises, and Stuart Levine's lights move the eye from area to area as well. Sheridan Zabel's costumes strike just the right balance between gaudy exaggeration and fairyland romance.

This production turns its back on the fine-tuned perfections of an original cast recording, and of course everything might be better, but this is an engrossing, entertaining, intelligent show succeeding on its own terms to such an extent that I thought I heard songs and scenes I never remember from other productions. And with a show as familiar as "Into The Woods" that is high praise indeed.

Love,
===Anon.


"Into The Woods" (till 12 September)
MIT MUSICAL THEATRE GUILD
Kresge Little Theatre, 84 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE
1(617)253-6294

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