What happens when real life crashes into the storybook lives of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood? In the ultimate fairytale mash-up we learn what comes after “Happily Ever After” because in reality, life usually doesn’t have such a simple ending. In one of my all-time favorite musicals, Stephen Sondheim brilliantly weaves the lives of some of our most beloved characters from our childhood stories and draws us into a world of gallant princes, evil witches, wronged giants and moments in the woods!
Syracuse City Arts Council is producing the enchanting Into the Woods August 3th, 4th and 6th at Syracuse High School. In addition to having the opportunity to see this fabulous show, Syracuse also grants us a special performance from their youth theater – Before, Ever After which “sets up witty ‘character origin’ parodies set to popular Sondheim tunes.”
Before, Ever After (story and direction by Lindy Bowthorpe Davis) was simply a delightful way to begin the evening. What’s not to love about watching young ones create theater magic in “Putting it Together” style, right before entering into a world of fairy-tales and brilliant story telling.
I had to giggle as Before, Ever After began with orchestrations from Sweeny Todd (“The Worst Pies in London”). It was fun to see such great talent on the stage at such a young age. While I commend all the little ones for their part in the success of Before, Ever After, I’d like to mention just a few by name. I found Prince Charming (Kevin Berkley) to be, well….quite charming. The Baker (Rhani Alam) had a strong stage presence and Cinderella (Emma Porter) had a beautiful voice. Brandilyn Hansen as one of the Silly Girls was entertaining and finally, the evil stepsisters (Kinley Austad and Elise Willmore) played well together.
Into the Woods begins appropriately with our Narrator (Jared Jensen) speaking the words we know so well: “Once upon a time…” We are promptly introduced to “a young maiden” (Cinderella) played by Jillian Tirado, “a sad young lad” (Jack and the Beanstalk) played by Aaron Naylor, and a “childless baker…with his wife” played by Shaun Gardner and Becky Snarr; the baker and his wife being the only characters who didn’t originate from a classic fairy-tale. Shortly thereafter, Jennica Smith playing Little Red Riding Hood prances on to stage and our character’s journeys start to unfold.
As Little Red Riding Hood sets off to grandmothers house, Cinderella travels to her mother’s grave, Jack sets out to town to sell his best friend (his cow) and the baker and his wife venture into the woods to lift a spell that an evil witch has placed on their family. As you might guess, they run into a wolf, giants, princes, step-mothers and sisters, each other and a few surprises along the way.
Director Marinda Maxfield does an excellent job with pacing and staging. With quite an expansive stage, it would have been easy for the characters to get lost but she does a fine job in utilizing the space and the actors all seemed engaged and present in their roles.
Some standout performances came from Jillian Tirado (a local favorite of mine) as the beautiful Cinderlla, Aaron Naylor as the charismatic Jack, Becky Snarr as the strong-willed Baker’s Wife and Jennica Smith as Little Red Ridinghood. However, I’d say a majority of the cast was really very strong and I was hard pressed to find any critiques (without trying to nitpick).
Our journey with these memorable characters is enhanced by the beautiful and colorful set design by Katie Bills and lead Set Painter Heather Jones Steed. In addition, the lighting backdrops (James Rigby) brighten the story-land feeling. Finally, props to Music Director Jason Steed. Sondheim is often credited as being one of the most difficult composers to produce and as someone who knows Into the Woods well, I was impressed with the live orchestra.
As this was a dress rehearsal (opening night is Friday, August 3rd), there were still some technical issues they were working through. Hopefully, by tomorrow night, these will be cleared up. Finally, again this may be because it was a dress rehearsal where friends and family were invited but babes in arms and crying toddlers seemed to be okay. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in an audience with so many young children running up and down the aisles and chattering the night away. Dress rehearsal or no, one should come prepared for very young children (a rarity in the theater) and perhaps feel comfortable bringing their own.
Into the Woods is a classic piece of musical theater history and is such a gem in it’s music, story and message. If you haven’t seen the show, this production is a must. Even if you have seen the show, it’s always a fun journey to take!
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