If you’re looking for a feel-good musical, you probably want to leave after the first act of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods. When the curtain closes on Act I, you might be left wondering, “what else needs to be said?” Those familiar with Sondheim’s work know, it ain’t over until Mr. Sondheim helps us see and struggle with our human frailties. Act II is a reminder to be careful what you wish or ask for…you just might get it – all of it!
The show features characters we know from childhood: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Big Bad Wolf, Jack – from beanstalk fame, an evil witch and for the ladies not one, but TWO princes. The cast wouldn’t be complete without a couple of evil step-sisters, a drunken step-father, Granny and a baker and his childless wife. Act I takes these familiar tales and for the most part, gives us the usual happy endings! Act II holds the characters (and each of us individually and collectively) accountable for our thoughts and actions in pursuit of our “fairy tale” endings.
Overall, the cast is very good with two major standouts. Melissa Perry plays the role of Cinderella. She is a Musical Theater major at Oakland University. Her voice is simply beautiful, un-manipulated, natural and free. I found myself looking ahead in the program to find when she would sing again. I was particularly moved by her singing of No One Is Alone. There were some collaborative issues during the song but I sensed a real connection with the lyrics and the singer. Tyler Dean, a student in the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of Michigan plays the dual role of Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince. Without question, he steals the show. If you have ever seen the classic Mel Brooks film; Robin Hood – Men in Tights – Dean takes something from Robin of Loxley and the Sheriff of Rottingham to create his portrayal of Cinderella’s Prince.
Singing the music of Stephen Sondheim is not for the “faint of heart.” He doesn’t provide his characters beautiful melodies with typical rhyming patterns. He expects singers to converse or express fluid thoughts – musically. With few exceptions, the cast does an admirable job.
Shannon McNutt directed the show for Spotlight Players. She does a brilliant job of making stage movement natural. There weren’t any uncomfortable scenes when the cast created straight lines or semi-circles to deliver dialogue or music. Entrances and exits made sense. She helped the cast understand the difference between staging and acting in a Sondheim musical versus a show by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The set is very functional and for the most part workable in the context of the show. There are no special effects or countless scene changes. The show uses live musicians in the pit. While there were occasional balance problems between the singers and musicians, particularly in Act I, I felt overall quality improved as the evening went on. There were times, in certain scenes, I felt the lighting could have been more intimate and the spotlight should have landed cleaner and done a better job of following the actors. But, in fairness to the production, I did attend opening night and recognize a live audience tends to raise the performance and production level.
This is a long show. The first act ran nearly 80 minutes while Act II ran just about an hour – but time flew by!
I would strongly encourage you to experience Spotlight Players production of Into the Woods. It is well worth your time and the price of admission. The show runs April 20 – 22 & 27 – 29 at the Village Theater at Cherry Hill – 50400 Cherry Hill Road, Canton, MI. Tickets can be purchased at spotlightplayersmi.org . Chances are you will not leave with a melody you just can’t seem to forget. However, I can promise a well executed production, a good cast and the opportunity to realize that collectively each of us can make a difference in the lives we touch.