October 6, 2018 | Dr. Jeff List

The world of fairy tales comes together in Into The Woods at Pit & Balcony for a truly enjoyable evening. The hit musical sees the worlds of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood in a re-telling that allows audience members to re-imagine the stories with which they grew up. The intelligent directing, strong acting, and creative design bring an engaging production to the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Into The Woods centers on the Baker and his Wife as they journey to reverse the curse put upon them by the hideous Witch - never to have children. In order to satisfy the Witch’s demands, the Baker must get her “a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.” We also experience the odysseys of the owners of those objects: Cinderella’s quest for a prince, Jack’s journey up the beanstalk, Rapunzel’s rendezvous with her prince, and Little Red’s encounter with her wolf. None of these stories are told as we remember them, which allows for a new and fresh experience. After Jack kills the giant, the giant’s wife comes down from the heavens to exact revenge and spread death and havoc. (I don’t think I’ve mentioned that this play may not be suitable for young children.) This adventure is narrated by a boy, who is part storyteller, part story writer.

Director Laura Brigham stages a smart production. She brings all of the different stories together in a cohesive narrative. Her strength in this show is her ability to create a flow that never seems to lag, even when the action may turn to extended dialogue. She creates plenty of moments that bring laughter and engaged silence. She uses the stage well, balancing the action both left and right and also back and front. Brigham puts together such a fun moment when the Baker and the Baker’s Wife try to convince Jack to sell them his cow, named Milky White, for five “magic” beans. Also, her staging of the Little Red scene at grandma’s house is delightfully memorable.

The music, under the direction of Todd Thomas, was well executed. Most of the singers show good tone as there are quite a few strong vocalists in this show. The company numbers are put together effectively. The opening and closing numbers frame the entire production in a way that brings enthusiasm to start and leaves audience members with smiles on their faces on their way home. One low-key standout number is “It Takes Two” with the Baker and the Baker’s Wife. The music really brings a wonderful energy to the stage.

Audience members will get to see strong acting performances throughout the cast. Ryan Sequin as the Baker displays a kindly and well-intentioned man, if occasionally misguided. Sequin shows his characters journey both literally as he works to reverse the curse and stop the giant and also figuratively as a man who battles his desires and fears before doing the right thing. His interactions with the Mysterious Man exemplify that internal conflict.

Emmy Rupp as the Baker’s Wife provides a strong counter to Sequin. She wants to be by his side as he ventures into the woods. He refuses, but she knows he needs her, so she embarks on the quest herself. Rupp gives the Baker’s Wife a strength that helps guide the Baker. She does not present a one-dimensional stand-by-her-man type as she shows how the wife falls for the fantasy of the fairy tales she inhabits.

A strong performance from Jenny Cohan as the Witch brings a commanding presence to the show. Her dual-role as the grotesque and mangled witch to the grand, almost regal, witch really impresses. She is ruthless and conniving, but not without her sympathies. Her “Witch’s Lament” may be my favorite number in the entire play. Cohan demands attention every time she is on stage.

Anyone who attends this production will find a delightful energy with Emma Massey as Little Red Riding Hood. She displays such charm that turns into a near-psychotic, violent streak. She experiences loss like everyone who remains after the giant’s rampage. She is funny without venturing into corny. Her first encounter with the Baker provides a moment sure to brings laughs. (No spoilers.)

Cameron Plarske gives Jack (of beanstalk fame) a simple-minded joy without delving into something that could become offensive. He plays an odd hero, but a hero nonetheless. His fondness for his beloved Milky White is pure joy.

The set, by Isaac Wood, is both luscious and gorgeous. Woods’ trees that fill the set give the dark ambiance that the story demands. His tree with tree house overgrown with branches gives the story of the narrator the right tone. His design is especially impressive considering the show generally requires a larger stage. One of the delights of the show, the cow Milky White, provides just one example of the rich trappings by prop master team of Darby and Jerry Gwisdala. The costumes are, for the most part, stunning and gorgeous. The Witch and the Mysterious Man are standouts. The princes and Cinderella’s sisters show intelligent design decisions as the costumes pair nicely without too much sameness. One curious decision was the Wolf who seemed out of period and the world of the play. Bailey Banks gives a gratifying effect as projections against the back wall give depth to the forest and a castle to set an appropriate sense of place. While there were some issues with microphones “running hot,” they did not distract too much from the action on the stage.

For an enjoyable evening, see this show.

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