By Jennifer Mustoe
I have seen Into the Woods, Steven Sondheim’s sometimes fun, often dark take on familiar fairytales, several times. The Echo’s latest offering of Into the Woods, directed magnificently by Melissa Leilani Larson, is worth seeing, if you have seen this show before, or if you haven’t.
If you haven’t been to The Echo Theatre before, you will find a lovely space and within this space is a remarkably cool set, designed and constructed by Jeffrey Blake. I really don’t want to give anything away, so I will simply say that when you see the set, you will understand immediately that Into the Woods gets its roots (and yes, that is a pun) from storybooks.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s basically a bunch of fairy tale characters that you have read about (or seen in Disney movies ~sigh~) are all clumped together in one musical. So, let’s see–we’ve got Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and his mother and his cow, a witch and many other characters who all interact with one another at some point. Steven Sondheim’s haunting music is perfect for this story, as there are highs and lows, dark songs and happy songs and whole bunch of irony and reality thrown in. If you are picking up that I think Into the Woods has some philosophical meaning to it, you would be right. Fairytale or not, this play is very relate-able.
In Act One, all the characters are introduced and the Mysterious Man/Narrator, played by Matthew R. Carlin, keeps us apprised of the story. Carlin does a fine job. He has a good voice and many of his acting choices not only help the story move along, but he generates many of the laughs with his facial expressions and movement.
Though everyone did a fine job, there are a few performers in this show that I want to highlight. The Baker, played by Ben Cummins really touched me–he showed me a caring Baker who loves his wife. The Baker’s Wife, played by Julianna Blake, was one of my favorites. Not only does she have an amazing voice, she put some fun spunk into her role that I haven’t really seen before. And her enthusiasm for anything royal was so palpable, I wanted to slap her. This is good, I promise. Paige Guthrie’s Cinderella was charming (another pun!) but I couldn’t hear her very well in places. My companion said she had no trouble hearing her, so maybe it was just me. Guthrie’s acting choices in Act Two are especially poignant. Jack, played by Jordan Kramer, was sweetly hilarious. I’ve seen Kramer in many performances and it doesn’t seem to matter what he is in, he brings something new and fresh to his roles.
Little Red Riding Hood, played by Hannah Roskelley, was amazing. I loved her interpretation of this role. Yes, she’s supposed to be a smart alecky kid, but I saw something new and more mature and far more believable with Roskelley’s performance. The Witch, played by Briana Shipley, is fantastic. She has an amazing voice and because she goes from horridly mean OLD witch to a beautiful mean YOUNGER woman, Shipley was able to make this switch very nicely.
By far, my favorite numbers in this show are the ones that have the princes singing. This production has two very princely actors: Carson Smith Davies and Ben Hess (who also plays the Wolf.) These two actors had the swagger and the pipes to really make these songs shine and I admit, I would have been really disappointed if they hadn’t been all that I wanted. They didn’t leave me wanting at all.
This show had a live band: Zach Hansen on piano and Tyler Smith on violin. This was perfect for the show. Jennifer Stott Madsen was music director and as I said, the singing was great. Madsen did an excellent job.
Sadie Nagle-Perkins was in charge of costumes and the costumes were fantastic! This is a heavily costumed show as there is royalty, your average townspeople and the cow, Milky White. All the costumes were amazing, but I really giggled when I saw what Milky White was dressed in. The cow (meaning she is female) was played by bearded Spencer Grierson, who chewed his/her cud very realistically. To show that Milky White was a girl and not a boy, the costume had a pink fanny pack with water bottles in it. Voila! An udder. I cracked up. Super cute.
Melissa Leilani Larson did a wonderful job taking a rather dark play (everything pretty much falls apart in Act Two and it’s like a Shakespearean tragedy, there are so many deaths) and brings in lots of laughs. Her interpretation was fresh and that is a good thing. I love this play, but it is really dark.
And while I’m on the topic of dark, I will simply say, if you have kids who want to see a show, I would recommend this for many 12 or older unless your child thoroughly loves musicals. And because there is death and a brief fling, you’ll want kids who are rather mature to see the show. There is NOTHING offensive like profanity, etc. But it’s just pretty much a grown up version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which have been very cleaned up for Disney.
Into the Woods is a very important commentary and The Echo brings a fresh perspective to an already great show. Go see it!
The Echo Theatre, 15 N. 100 East, Provo
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m.
Info: (801) 358-6623, theechotheatre.com