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Encore’s Extraordinary “Into the Woods” (review) August 21, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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There is probably very little I can say that hasn’t already been written about Encore Musical Theatre Company’s Into the Woods — simply, it’s brilliant, original, and the best musical they have presented.


I, for one can tell you that I am sick and tired of Into the Woods — I’ve seen every one of its various Broadway professional versions and every local high school, junior high, community theatre and church-basement theatre has done it. But this production had me smiling in delight — and when a show that you know every single word and lyric to can do that after all these years, there is something special going on indeed.

The casting is superior from top to bottom…from Jessica Grové’s superb Witch, to Baker and Baker’s Wife Matthew Brennan and Thalia V. Schramm, to Princes and Wolf (Peter Crist and Sebastian Gerstner…pictured above singing “Agony”). Throw in excellent performances by Jeff Steinhauer (Mysterious Man and Cinderella’s Stepmother – yes, you read that right), Katrina Stribley as Cinderella, Hannah Hesseltine as Little Red, and Elliot Styles as Jack. Top them off with fantastic supporting players Maggie Malaney as Rapunzel, Cassi Mikat and Maggie Williams as Florinda and Lucinda, Emily Rogers as Jack’s Mother, Ari Axelrod as the Steward, and a hilarious Tim Brayman as Milky White (yes, you read that right too).

Director Dan Cooney sets it all in the mysterious and shadowy eaves of an old attic — and the set design itself (by Sarah Tanner) adds a level of drama to the proceedings — light shines through the wooden slats, and illuminates glimpses of things happening throughout — the fully integrated ensemble cast are on stage almost the entire evening and serve as a greek chorus at times — emphasizing words, watching proceedings, providing sound effects. It all works remarkably well. Also fully integrated into the show is the onstage orchestra – with musical director/pianist Tyler Driskill moved around the stage as needed, and the remainder of the orchestra on stage left. The sound is remarkable.

Matthew Brennan’s choreography is organic and never overwhelms the numbers, nor the intended purpose of the staging. People here do not dance just to dance. Daniel Walker’s lighting evokes mood better in this production than anything I have seen at Encore to date. Sharon Larkey Urick’s costumes look lovely, and Anne Donevan has gathered eclectic and interesting properties that serve multiple purposes throughout.

Witness the creative use of light to create the Giant…the clever use of simple props to convey Milky White’s adventures…the “found properties” qualities of ladders and woven material that convey beanstalks and towers. It is flawless work.

Absolutely do not miss Into the Woods — you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve seen something brilliant — and you have.

Very Highly Recommended — nay, demanded that you attend.

Into the Woods continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through August 30th. For tickets call 734-268-6200 or visit http://www.theencoretheatre.org. I understand there are still some tickets remaining for the final weekend.

Into the Woods at Croswell Opera House (review) May 10, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Woods 08 - Stepsisters

Hard to believe that Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is 28 years old, right? I saw that original production in NYC 28 years ago several times while I was in grad school, and I’ve probably seen 40 productions in between. And none of them has been as picture perfect a copy of the original Broadway production as the current sublime Croswell Opera House offering.

Eric Parker directs with an assured hand and there isn’t a single wrong note in the production — from Leo Babcock’s beautiful set — to Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting, Dave Rains’s Musical Direction, and Kailey Osgood-McAuliffe’s costumes.

The ensemble cast is excellent — as it should be with a cast consisting of a virtual who’s who of local musical theater. Every cast member gets their moment to shine. Particularly good are Mark DiPietro as the Narrator/Mysterious Man, Natalie Kissinger as the Witch, and Jarrod Alexander and Patrick Wallace as the Princes. But every single cast member is terrific.

The too-long-as-it-is show includes the additional “Our Little World” added for the London production post-Broadway. The 17-piece orchestra sounds lush and full. The sound design is impeccable – you can hear every single word of the marvelous lyrics.

In short, it is hard to tell the difference between Croswell’s offering and a Broadway tour that rolled through town and set up shop in Adrian. And that is a great thing as far as I’m concerned and another impressive notch in Eric Parker’s directorial belt.

Highly Recommended.

Into the Woods continues at the Croswell Opera House through May 17th. Tickets at Croswell.org or 517-264-show

“Into the Woods”, University of Michigan, is wonderful (review) October 16, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Theatre.
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“Into the Woods” presented by the University of Michigan Musical Theater Program, is the only local production of this (way way overproduced)show that I have seen that does it the way it’s supposed to be done.  I had the fortune to see the original Into the Woods on Broadway when I was living there in the 80’s with it’s spectacular cast including Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, and Joanna Gleason.

UM’s production is just lovely — from the set, lighting and costumes, to the very fine vocal work – especially the choral work here. Kudos to musical director Cynthia Kortman Westphal and director Mark Madama for the magic onstage.

The student actors are indistinguishable from a professional tour cast.  Eric Maler and Amy Blackman as the Baker and his WIfe turn in fine performances, as does Rachel Bahler as the Witch, but the entire ensemble cast here is superb. I especially enjoyed Andy Jones in his duel-roles of the Wolf as well as one of the Princes. He’s a hoot in both.

The show works particularly well in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater – large enough to make it a true proscenium musical with a full orchestra, but intimate enough that you can literally hear every word. Congratulations to the excellent sound design here.

Get out of the house, go see this “Woods” even if you have seen the show multiple times before (and how could you not have, given it is one of the most over-done musicals from elementary school to regional productions). Unless you have seen the show on Broadway, you haven’t seen it like this. Every joke, every piece of dialogue, and every note in Lapine/Sondhem’s work is nuanced and clever. It’s not either of the artists’ strongest works, but it is their most accessible by far. As you get into Act II (yes, folks who have done the show in primary and junior high schools, there IS an Act II), the story takes a decidedly more adult turn with all the grand themes of death, survival, coping, and rebirth that make all musicals soar.

Giants can be right. Witches can be good. And you will have a wonderful time venturing into these “Woods”.