Sterling Playmakers’ production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods introduces us to a mashup of Brothers Grimm fairytales including that of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. The dark but humorous saga creatively intertwines their stories together with a tale of a Baker and his wife who desperately want to have a baby. It’s a fairytale so there must be, of course, a witch and there must be a curse. But this is not your Disney fairytale and Act II continues the story, giving us the opportunity to see what comes after the “happily ever after” of Act I.
The young narrator (Pete Berman) was intriguing because the role is most often played by an adult. Berman carried off the role with an enthusiasm and clear voice that rang throughout the theater. Emma Wright shines as Cinderella, especially in her performance of the show’s signature number, “No One is Alone.” Her expressive soprano voice has a confidence – yet innocence – that is just right for the part of a young woman trying to discover who she is in the world. Director Corinne Fox and the entire production’s cast and crew are to be congratulated for their skillful and entertaining production. Fox adeptly manages a large cast of 31 performers keeping the pace moving, while paying attention to small movements and details that add to the professionalism of a show. Madyson Hanton gives a wonderful hair-lowering performance as Rapunzel.
Kelly Gray stands out as the scheming, sarcastic witch who says, “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.” Gray nails the witch’s cackle as well as the challenging physical and vocal components of the part. And speaking of challenging physical roles, hats off to Amelia Burkley for her portrayal of Milky White, a sad sickly cow. Burkley manages to stay in character, even giving some personality to the part, while maintaining a bent over, back-breaking posture for the cow who has a lot of stage time.
There are two scene-stealers in the show and a highlight is their song together, “Hello, Little Girl.” The Wolf (Tim Griffin) is sizing up Little Red Riding Hood (Sydney Maloney) for his next meal. While Griffin exhibits a creepiness that is almost uncomfortable, in his short time on stage he brings such character to the part we don’t really mind. Thirteen year-old Maloney as Red, excels as the spoiled, smart aleck. She combines a mixture of world-weariness, naiveté, and great comic timing that made her seem both younger and at the same time older. She is a joy to watch.
Other strong performers include Chris Gray (The Baker), Holly Hoey as his wife, and Brett Stockman as the rather dim Jack. Jeannie DeLisi (Jack’s mother) exhibits a fearlessness, strength, and comic flair that give her a power that few other characters possess. Matthew Scarborough and Keaton Crowe as Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince give solid performances in their duet “Agony” as they lament the challenges of being a prince. Listen carefully for the words to “Agony Reprise” where the song takes a more humorous turn. A special shout out to the six girls who flitted and flew across stage as Cinderella’s Birds.
Music Director Wyndy Fredrick also deserves mention as she keeps the music-intensive show on tune and on track. It is an remarkably talented cast and Fredrick plays up the strengths of the performers.The production team admirably handled the limitations presented by a middle school stage. Lighting kept us directed to the center of the action, the large set pieces worked well even when they needed to be moved, and the stage crew moved things on and off stage easily and quickly. Costumes were good and the wigs were outstanding. While the pre-recorded music occasionally overpowered the singing and speaking voices, the sound was clear and sound effects right on the mark.
I strongly encourage you to see this production. A note to Loudoun County residents who often have to travel further for theater, let’s support our local artists and go see this show. You won’t be disappointed.
Running Time: Three hours, with one intermission.
Sterling Playmaker’s Into the Woods plays through November 24, 2013, at the Sterling Middle School – 201 West Holly Avenue, in Sterling, VA. Tickets may be purchased online or at the door.