Wildwood Summer Theatre conquers Sondheim for their 49th annual summer season with Into the Woods. Wildwood is a youth-run summer theatre; everyone from the chair of the board to the set designer is under 25 years of age and they attract some of the most promising talent from across the region. This production is no exception – from the big musical numbers to the smallest prop – these guys are serious. Most of the cast are older high school students or younger college students. Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics and James Lapine wrote the book for this classic that debuted on Broadway in 1987 and won several Tonys.
Director Devin Goodman makes great use of a set by Jimmy Stubbs. He created a truly massive tree whose roots span the stage, leaving plenty of nooks for everything needed for this complicated production tucked into the corners. Stubbs chose to emphasize the narrator by giving him a tall platform surrounded by books. Goodman has the cast moving, climbing, and jumping over the tree, especially is the ambitious company numbers “Act One Prologue” – better known as “Into the Woods” as well as the “Finale.” The choreography for these songs is playful and low-key by Laura Boyer.
Into The Woods follows a baker and his wife as they try to have a child and must wander through the bulk Grimm’s fairy tales before they are successful, but then the play takes a turn as we learn for the first time what happens after the happily ever afters for the likes of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack, and his beanstalk.
This isn’t your average high school musical. It’s a true ensemble piece with a truly challenging score, which means the whole cast must be equally strong singers and actors to pull this off and they are. Kaedy Fischer (Witch) is the lynchpin and is noticeable onstage for her complete commitment through her transformation and her beautiful numbers “Witch’s Lament” and “Last Midnight.”
Wesley Diener and Katherine Worley (Baker and Baker’s Wife) have great chemistry and it’s fun to watch them dance through their many duets like “Maybe They’re Magic” and “It Takes Two.”
Adam Garcia (Jack) has great body comedy and a voice to match his stage presence on songs like “I Guess This is Goodbye” and “Giants in the Sky.” I never felt such sympathy for a Paper Mache cow. Felice Amsellem (Jack’s Mother) is a standout in this production. Her voice is a slice of heaven on her many solos.
Chris Walkup (Narrator) has a challenge to build his character as he’s basically sitting there telling the story and his charisma pulls it off. Kristina Hopkins (Cinderella) makes her hesitant character sympathetic and probably has the most ease with Sondheim’s score for “On the Steps of the Palace” and her beautiful rendition of “No One is Alone…” with Kayli Modell (Little Red Ridinghood). Modell has a fine sense of comedy and can handle the drama too on her solo “I Know Things Now.”
Bryan Eng and Noah Beye (Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince) kill it on one of my favorites, “Agony.” Really, I could not see a weak link throughout the cast, all supported by a fine pit orchestra who tackles the almost constant music with aplomb, led by the very busy Itai Yasur who both conducts and plays keyboard.
Selin Demir and Courtney James designed some creative and beautiful costumes that entirely fit each character, lit to dramatic affect by Designer Aaron Bobeck.
Everyone onstage and off has poured their hearts and considerable talents into this show. No doubt many folks onstage will soon be in professional productions locally and nationally, but for now they are shining in Wildwood Summer Theatre’s magical production of Into the Woods. This is an inspiring, summer treat.
Running Time: Three hours with one 15-minute intermission.