‘Into the Woods,’ You’ll Like This Show, You Have to Go, I Told You So

Into Broadbrook we like to go, twisted fairy tales in the woods, you’ll like this show.
Things are different in the woods for fairy tale characters from princesses like a flighty and uncertain Cinderella (Chelsea Kelle) and Rapunzel (KaitlynVandeloecht) and princes (Gavin Mackie as Prince Charming and Tim Reilly as Rapunzel’s prince) to Little Red Riding Hood (Kellie Comer) and the Jack who enters the world of the giants by planting and climbing a beanstalk (Randy Davidson), as well as an eccentric witch (Lindsay Botticello) and an average baker (Michael Graham Morales) and his wife (Nikki Wadleigh). The characters undergo epiphanies, experience unlikely events, encounter and overcome obstacles and eventually find a clearing of resolution in their lives, some for the good and some for their demise.Endings are not necessarily happy in The Opera House Player’s production of “Into the Woods” and outcomes are certainly unexpected. 

A witch casts a spell on a baker whose father stole beans from her garden so that his family tree will always be a barren one. She tells the baker and his wife that they can break the curse if they find hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood, a shoe as shiny as gold and a cow as white as milk within a certain time frame. 

The woods are often on the fringe of our lives and can be dark and mysterious. It’s the unfamiliar and they are almost never the destination. You pass through them and navigate through trees and could get lost or encounter a wolf as Little Red does in Shaun O’Keefe. They are confusing and beautiful as is life, even for fairy tale creatures. The woods are a place of transition and are the crux of this play’s setting.

As it can take you a long time to trudge through the woods, this play’s one downfall is it’s three-hour length, much like most Stephen Sondheim masterpieces. Act I could almost be its own play in and of itself with a happy ending. But Sondheim and book writer James Lapine (also the original Broadway director of the show) take it further and create a second bout of turmoil for the characters to work through leading to death for some and sad but tranquil endings for others.

Because the show is so long and Sondheim jams a lot of words into his lyrics that can sometimes overwhelm you, character is really important. And that is where this show succeeded. 

Particularly Wadleigh as the baker’s wife, who told stories with her mere expressions to convey her emotions from frustrations and doubts about her husbands to conflicted passion after a woodland romp with Cinderella’s Prince (Mackie).

She paired well with Morales, whose sarcastic attitude made them a strong comic duo. There was a moment toward the end when the baker is distraught and it actually looks like Morales produces tears, which is very hard to do. 

Botticello also got a lot of laughs as the witch despite being the villain. 

Comer was sassy as Little Red. O’Keefe was haunting and playful as the wild singing the creepy song “Hello, Little Girl” harken info back to the dark French Little Red Riding tales teaching children to be wary of strangers. Sherrie Schallack was fierce as Granny.

Kelle was another standout as her character’s blunt observations played comically. She also sung very powerful soprano vocals. Aileen Merino Terzi and Jen Augeri were beautiful yet shrill as the stepsisters and teamed up well with a strong, conniving stepmother in Anna Giza. 

Emily Smith played Cinderella’s mother in a stunning shiny dress with ink a beautiful tree hollow set piece (the set was the most intricate and beautiful I’ve seen at the Broad Brook Opera House). She also did the voice of the seemingly omnipotent giantess.

Randy Davidson was whimsical and humorous as Jack in his obsession with Milky White (a girl), his friend the cow who he keeps referring to as a he. That cow as white as milk is another star of the show! He sang “Giants in the Sky” beautifully. 

Amy Rucci played the role of Jack’s mom seriously when I’ve seen it play well comically in other versions, but was ever so motherly and concerned.

Tim Reilly’s booming operatic tenor voice was sheer royalty as Rapunzel’s Prince and and was strong in his duet with the arrogant Prince Charming (Mackie), “Agony,” arguably one of the most memorable songs on the show besides the lengthy but catchy overlapping prologue and Kelle’s “On the Steps of the Palace” as Cinderella.

Gene Choquette was mysterious and delirious as the Mysterious Man who randomly appears at times to help the baker and respectable doubling as our reliable narrator. There’s a scene where he interacts with the characters breaking the wall between the all-knowing narrative and the subjects of the story, ultimately being destroyed causing the stories to spiral out of control. 

Many of the actors went for character over musicality in their songs, which sometimes was effective. The most beautiful melodies came from the stunning Vandeloecht as Rapunzel from her tower.

Thomas Schutz plays the Steward. 

Opening night there were some problems with the microphones for some of he actors like Little Red and some were harder to hear than others. There was also a moment when Cinderella’s birds got caught while being lifted over the wall. 

Overall set transitions went smoothly. The costumes by Moonyean Field were beautiful. 

Sharon FitzHenry is the artistic director, Bill Martin music directs. This is one of the few musicals without dancing so there was no choreographer. 

“Into the Woods” runs again tonight at 8 and Sunday at 2 as well as next weekend. Find more information about tickets on the opera house’s website or by calling the box office at 860-292-6068.

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