Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You Simply Must Go 'Into the Woods'

Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Arika Matoba (Little Red Ridinghood) and Kevin Vortmann (The Wolf). (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)

THEATRE REVIEW

While a cursory glance of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods may appear to be nothing more than a musical comedy featuring a mashup of fairy tale characters, by the end, you’ll realize that there is a lot more to this story. Its messages are deceptively deep and though I knew going into it that this production had some dark undertones, I had no idea. And just because the play features Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t mean that this production is one for the kids. Well, maybe if you left after Act One.

Just to clarify, Into the Woods isn’t a “naughty” production but most of the humor will go over little one’s heads and there is a sharp tonal shift that comes between the first and second act that not only challenges the notion of a “happily ever after,” but also presents these characters as real, flawed people who need to take responsibility for their own actions. Themes include parents making mistakes while trying to do what is best for their children, learning how to be content with what you have rather than what you want and reaping what you sow.

Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Allison Standley as Cinderella. (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)
This musical features multiple storylines that crossover each other. Unlike the Disney-fied and perhaps sanitized versions of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale classic stories, Into the Wood presents a more traditional view of these character warts and all. These stories include:

  • Cinderella (Allison Standley) who longs to go to ball and get away from her evil stepmother (Cheryse McLeod Lewis) and stepsisters Lucinda (Marissa Ryder) and Florinda (Arika Matoba). Instead of a fairy godmother, Cinderella visits her mother’s grave and is visited by her spirit (Corinna Munter).
  • Jack (Rafael Molina) who loves his cow, Milky White, more than anything, struggles to find a way to keep her despite his mother’s (Jayne Muirhead) pleading with him to sell her so they won’t starve. Let’s just say that there will be a beanstalk in his future.
  • Little Red Ridinghood (Arika Matoba) is challenged to either follow her mother’s advice to “not stray from the path” or listen to the Wolf’s (Kevin Vortmann) instructions on how to find beautiful flowers to give to her grandmother (Corinna Munter).
  • A baker and his wife (Trey Ellett and Christine Marie Brown) have hope of breaking a curse that prevents them from becoming parents if they are willing to do a few unsavory tasks for their next-door neighbor, the witch (Mari Nelson).
  • Rapunzel (Molli Corcoran) sings out happily though unable to leave her tower. She sings a different tune once she gets out.

Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Marissa Ryder (Lucinda), Cheryse McLeod Lewis (Cinderella's Stepmother),
and Alexandria Henderson (Florinda). (Photo: Tracy Martin)
Each of the character’s stories lead them to go “into the woods” which is sort of a metaphor for taking risks in life and coming back a changed person, whether for good or for bad. Some of the characters do the right thing while others do not.

I have to say that while watching this production that I really liked the first act, then I found myself not liking the middle and then come back around full circle for the time the play wrapped up. The stories and pretty familiar for the first half where most of the stories we know end on “happily ever after” but Act 2 ventures beyond with a real crisis that affects all of the characters. Some choose to ignore it, others run away and others face the obstacle head on. Without giving anything away, the story does end on a positive note.

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Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Christine Marie Brown, Trey Ellett and Mari Nelson. (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)
Matthew Smucker’s sets and Melanie Taylor Burgess’ costumes for Into the Woods are some of the best I’ve ever seen and the photos do not do them justice. The revolving stage features woods that contain trees that are made out of ladders and leaves that are really pages from a story book. The woods change appearance from being warm and magical to stark and grim. Many of the character’s costumes feature a patch quilt look. As for the characters, some truly over-the-top as is the case of the prince brothers played by Kevin Vortmann and Matthew Posner. (Their song, “Agony,” about dealing with the fairer sex is spot on.) Others, like the Baker’s Wife, are more realistic where you sympathize with them one moment and then are angry with them the next. The stand out though is Arika Matoba who is able to present Red Ridinghood’s lines with dry humor and perfect comedic timing and yet still remain innocent. As for the music, don’t expect to walk away with songs stuck in your head as Sondheim’s musical numbers are more poetic than toe-tapping.

Into the Woods continues playing at the Everett Performing Arts Center through November 19, 2017. The theatre is located at 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, WA 98201.