Review: ‘Into the Woods, Jr.’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater

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Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents Into the Woods Jr., a condensed version of the Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine, and orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. John Waldron directs the large cast of youth alongside musical director James Schader, and while my performance did include a number of issues that need addressing, the overall experience was a fun one!

 (The Witch) and (Rapunzel). Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theatre.

Arianna Parenti (The Witch) and Madison Sterner (Rapunzel). Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theatre.

Master Carpenter Kyle Roberts led a team of set-builders and painters to bring designer Becky Patton’s vision onstage. Large, moveable set pieces were used for our favorite fairy-tale settings, including the refined manor home of Cinderella, Jack’s shabby cottage, a bustling bakeshop, and Rapunzel’s stone tower. There are some very creative ideas in this show– keep an eye out for an especially cool, life-sized princess carriage (and yes, it actually works!). When these are not used, the stage resembles an eerie forest filled with bare, twisted trees.

Lighting Designer Jeff Auerbach and technician Claire Havernek use dappled lighting and a green tint to lend to the atmosphere, which is completed with forest sound cues by designer Lily Vita. Costume Designer Jackie Cooney was tasked with dressing a cast of well over fifty members, including the ensemble, which is a tall order! With a large team of costumers and sewers, the costumes were kept simple and uniform for the most part– for example, the narrators all wore the same knitted blouse and pants, but each had a different color. This method proved effective and efficient, though I would have liked to see a bit more drama. The best costume in my opinion was easily that of the Witch, with her matted grey hair, gnarled staff, and expressive facial mask.

There were many problems with the sound and microphones at my performance, which consistently flipped on-and-off throughout the show. The malfunction was often (every few seconds, I’d say) and was highly distracting.

Musical Director James Schader did warn the audience of this problem before the show began, and kindly asked them to all turn off their cell-phones to avoid interference. Sadly, it seems not many people listened. I do hope that he and Master Electrician Marg Soroos can find a solution to this problem that doesn’t depend on an unreliable audience.

Other behind-the-scenes issues plagued the show as well– lengthy scene changes led to delayed cues, and more than once the poor actor whose job it was to distract the audience was left standing awkwardly while waiting for the stage to be ready. Curtains were also opened at the wrong moment, only to hastily be closed again.

What I see here is a need for better communication and teamwork skills between the cast and crew, and I’m confident that this will be addressed and yield stronger performances as the show continues its run.

(Little Red Riding Hood), The Baker (Max von Kolnitz), and his Wife (Shannon Flack). Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

Kayla Rothstein (Little Red Riding Hood), The Baker (Max von Kolnitz), and his Wife (Shannon Flack). Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

What happens when all of your favorite fairy-tale characters go on an adventure into the woods at once? The Baker (Max von Kolnitz) and his Wife (Shannon Flack) have been cursed with a childless life by their neighbor, The Witch (a strong performance by Arianna Parenti). She promises to lift the curse if the couple is able to retrieve specific objects that the Witch needs for a potion: a white cow, a red cape, some yellow hair, and a golden shoe. If these objects sound familiar, it’s because they are– these objects are focal points in our favorite fairy tales (Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella). Scared but determined, the desperate pair travel into the woods, where these classic stories intertwine in interesting and imaginative ways.

Narrators Lyndsey Lawrence, Caroline Magro, and Maggie Patrick follow the characters along their journey and make remarks to the audience as the plot unfolds. Adventurous plot-twists throw numerous challenges towards the Baker and his Wife…will they be able to collect the treasures before their time is up?

These actors are young and only beginning to hone their craft, so it is important not to expect perfect performances or vocals. However, this ensemble does hold a lot of brewing talent. Kayla Rothstein and Stephen Porter were fantastic as Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf; their scenes were the most enjoyable, and their onstage chemistry was apparent in their number “Hello, Little Girl.” I wish Stephen Porter had some more stage time, as he turned a somewhat small role into the most memorable as the sly, smooth-talking Wolf.

Another crowd-favorite duo were the princes; Pete Peterson as Rapunzel’s prince and DK Kleiman as Cinderella’s. Their melodramatic song “Agony” was a big hit and received grand applause and laughs. Madison Sterner boasted the strongest vocals as Rapunzel, and Shannon Flack had the best comedic timing as the put-upon Baker’s Wife.

Choreographer Michele Koros did a great job with the number “It Takes Two,” and impressed with a scene at the palace ball that spread throughout the entire audience! A few pop-culture inside-jokes were placed into the story as well, and made for some funny moments (Star Wars fans will not be dissappinted.)

The cast of 'Into the Woods, Jr.' Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

The cast of ‘Into the Woods, Jr.’ Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

The cast of Into the Woods, Jr. is young and lively, and the story itself is an enjoyable one. Aldersgate Church Community Theater is a strong group of players, and their production of Into the Woods Jr. is a good pick for a fun family evening out.

Running Time: 75 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Into the Woods Jr. plays through January 24, 2016 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater-1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

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