Theater review: Be careful what you wish for in UMD's 'Into the Woods'
"The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold." With these reverberating words, a childless baker and his wife set off on a frenetic treasure hunt in UMD's production of the musical "...
"The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold." With these reverberating words, a childless baker and his wife set off on a frenetic treasure hunt in UMD's production of the musical "Into the Woods." The other characters, taken from Grimm's Fairy Tales, are each following their heart's desire into the dark recesses of the forest.
Composer Stephen Sondheim is notoriously challenging to sing. UMD's 20 cast members have varying degrees of success with the nuances of his songs and with the layers of wit and double entendre of James Lapine's book.
The evening's musical highlight is "No More," with the Baker (Zach Churchill) and the Mysterious Man (Brendan Finn). Churchill and Finn blend beautifully, and Churchill's solo work is stunning.
The accusatory song "Your Fault" is filled with lyric and musical landmines. The Baker (Churchill), Jack (Jake Nelson), Little Red (Rachel Williams) and Cinderella (Amelia Barr) make this intricate musical blame-game seem effortless.
"No One is Alone," with this same quartet, is a gorgeous musical statement of the play's ultimate theme of both caution and caring, about growing up but still needing support from each other to depend on in times of trouble.
As the Witch, Amanda Hennen struggles to project her lines and music in Act I where her large prosthetic nose and chin muffle her to such a degree that she is difficult to hear and understand. When she hits her stride is in Act II and has transformed into the beautiful witch, we can hear the power, resonance and beauty of her voice in "Last Midnight" and "Children Will Listen."
Rachel Williams is on point as Little Red with the right mix of adorable little girl cute and bloodthirsty avenger. Cinderella's Prince (Reese Britts) and Rapunzel's Prince (Ole Dack) are the comic standouts of the evening with their hysterical "Agony," played with royal arrogance and preposterous swagger. With the dark tone of the show, humor is needed. These three provide the comic relief that is, at times, missed elsewhere.
Brandin Stagg's colorful and inventive costumes and Mags Scanlon's evocative lighting design help to create the fairytale world. Curtis Phillips' set features two large stacks of aged fairy tale books that work well as multi-leveled acting spaces. Less successful is the set's monochromatic brown (with nary a green leaf or vine in sight) and the towers that look like an Arizona landscape with stacked rocks.
While music director Andy Kust's eight-piece orchestra is a little thin at times on what is a lush score written for twice that many, they do provide a solid underscore to feature the singers.
UMD's production, with even-handed direction from Ann Bergeron, is successful on many levels in creating the lighter fairy tale world in Act I and the much darker vision in Act II where not everyone does get to live live "happily ever after."
Yet even that dark ending is tempered with the final words "I wish," echoed from early in the show, that they each can somehow achieve their dreams.
If You Go
- What: "Into the Woods"
- Where: UMD's Marshall Performing Arts Center
- When: April 12-14,18-21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 15 at 2 p.m.
- Tickets: (218) 726-8561 or tickets.umn.edu.