<Theatre Mirror Review>"Into The Woods" "INTO THE WOODS">

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entire contents copyright 2015 by Tony Annicone

"Into The Woods"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Welcome to the fairy tales of Stephen Sondheim at the Ocean State Theatre Company, also known as "Into the Woods" which is their current musical. 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 Steep as the Witch. The show was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's "The Power of Enchantment" written in 1976.  The musical intertwines the plots of several Grimm Brothers fairy tales with an original one about a Baker and his wife who are living under the curse of an evil witch when they learn they can't have a child. The Baker and his wife set off into the woods to break the curse.  The other main characters include Red Riding Hood, Jack in the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella. Act 1 observes them pursuing "happily ever after" destinies. The second half explores what happens when they confront giants, mayhem, conflict and disappointment. In the end they discover that perhaps happiness is found in living the tale and turning the pages. Director Kathryn Markey and musical director Esther Zabinski come up victorious with this Sondheim show. This extremely talented cast does a terrific job on a very difficult show to perform.

Kathryn infuses new life into this show with her keen insight into the characters. She not only directs the show wonderfully but blocks it beautifully, too. The set is by Clifton Chadick while the exquisite, gorgeous handmade costumes are by Brian Horton with marvelous lighting by David Sexton. Esther taught the cast the intricate, tongue twisting songs to her hard working cast and obtains topnotch vocals from them. She plays lead keyboards and conducts a five piece orchestra. The main character who runs in and out of all the fairy tale scenes is the witch played splendidly by Erika Amato. She has a marvelous stage presence as this malevolent woman and her transformation from old hag into stunning beauty is done in the flash of an eye. Her first number is about the vegetables in her garden that the Baker's father stole from her. Erika handles the tongue twisting lyrics with perfect precision. The witch only shows warmth to her adopted or rather stolen daughter, Rapunzel. Erika's songs include "Stay with Me" where she wants Rapunzel to remain trapped in the tower and in "Witch's Lament" where she mourns for her after the Giant kills her. However it is her eleventh hour number "The Last Midnight" that stops the show with its poignancy and power at her brilliant rendition. She enthralls the audience with her dynamic portrayal.

Tommy Labarnaris and Amanda Ryan Paige as the Baker and his wife perform many comic bits in the first act but it is in the second act where the depth of their talents shine when they tug on your heartstrings. They must hunt for four things that will break the witch's curse including a white cow. They have many clever antics during their hunt with their wild machinations. Tommy has a terrific tenor voice and his most emotion packed songs are his duet with his father called "No More" with tears pouring out of his eyes and the quartet "No One Is Alone." Amanda's gorgeous voice soars in her numbers and her most poignant one is "Moments in the Woods" after her tryst with Cinderella's Prince. Their duet of "It Takes Two" is wonderful, too.

Playing the role of Cinderella is Sarah Pothier who I have been reviewing since 2008 in "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Players when she was 14 years old. She has a gorgeous soprano voice and displays her yearning of wanting to attend the King's festival. Sarah shines as Cinderella and her most impressive number is "No One Is Alone" when she comforts Red Riding Hood on the death of her grandmother by explaining the girl's granny and Cinderella's mother's spirits will never leave them, remaining with them forever. Sarah also sings On the Steps of the Palace" and has one of the best voices in this show. Nicole Calkins is topnotch as Red Riding Hood who buys bread and sweets from the Baker only to devour them before reaching granny's house. Her encounter with the wolf enlightens her in "I Know Now." Red Riding Hood becomes a stronger person and more blood thirsty after she and granny skin the wolf. The lesson she learns is to be careful what you wish for. Joseph DePietro plays the dimwitted Jack excellently. His comic quips and sayings are priceless including "I have a cow and a harp for a friend now." Jack must sell his beloved cow, Milky White for the magic beans setting up the encounter with the giant in the second act. Joseph's tenor voice is heard in the group numbers and in his solos "I Guess this is Goodbye" when he sells his cow and in "Giants in the Sky" when he learns their are consequences for your actions when you steal from others. He shows a lot of depth in this role.

Damron Russel Armstroong is marvelous as the Narrator as his strong voice resonates in this role. Brian Mulvey plays the Mysterious Man who is hiding a secret from the audience.  Wayne Hu as the wolf and Cinderella's Prince and Jonathan Olivera as Rapunzel's Prince are hilarious as these siblings. Jonathan has a comic Spanish accent. They stop the show with their comic number "Agony" which is my favorite song in this show. In the first act they are suffering because they can't get the girl while in the second they complain about their wives. Their acting of pomposity in these roles is splendid. Wayne displays his lower range as the wolf when he sings "Hello Little Girl" with Nicole. Pretty blonde Caroline Bateson plays Rapunzel who is trapped in a tower by the witch. She displays her strong soprano voice in this role. Stacey Geer shines as Jack's mother. Her acting is marvelous and her strong soprano range soars as this cantankerous woman.  Some of her laugh out loud moments include yelling at Jack So for a fantastic rendition of this Sondheim show, be sure to catch Ocean State Theatre's "Into the Woods" before the characters run out of the woods for good on May 23.

"Lend Me A Tenor" (29 April - 23 May)
@ 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, WARWICK RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide