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Theatre review: Into the Woods at St. Michael?s Playhouse

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St. Michael's Playhouse in Colchester has opened its season with the musical Into the Woods, which runs through July 1. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

St. Michael's Playhouse has opened their 60th Anniversary Season with a bang-up production of INTO THE WOODS.  If you've never seen this show with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, here's your chance.  Although the story is based on fractured fairy tales featuring Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Red Ridinghood and Rapunzel as well as the original tale of the Baker and his Wife, this is not a show for young children.  It deals with parental responsibility, the maturing process and facing the realities of life and does it with wit, humor and true human emotion.

First and foremost Tom Cleary has done a splendid job as Musical Director.  The eight piece orchestra expertly conducted by Andrew Miskavage handles the difficult score very well and the reduced orchestration is just fine.  Mr. Cleary has some terrific singers in the cast, and their solo and ensemble work is excellent, especially in the quintet "Your Fault".  The audience gets just about every lyric - quite a trick with a show that, when it opened in New York, was known as "Into the Words".

Set Designer Carl Tallent has designed a clever and workable set.  The twisted trees of his forest are set on and around painted book-like platforms that echo the book spines at either side of the proscenium and carry through the theme of open story-book pages.  John B. Forbes has done a nice job with the lighting, keeping it just a hair from realistic.

Sarah Moore's costumes are very good, especially those for the Wolf and the two Princes.  Ben Warner's sound is also excellent despite a few quickly corrected initial balance problems.  Stage Manager Tina Shakleford displays perfect timing in calling this complex show with its multiple fly, sound and light cues.

Now for the cast.  Let me say up front that they're all excellent singers who are able to handle the difficult score.  With a couple of exceptions, they're also very good actors.  Unfortunately Catherine Symons as Granny is completely inaudible, while Mary Carol Maganzini plays Jack's Mother in inappropriately youthful and overly glamorous make-up, undermining her credibility as the character.

However, Adam Sansiveri and Andrew Zane Fullerton have great fun with the two Princes, especially in their "Agony" duets.  Marc Tumminelli makes a bouncingly naive Jack and Sujana Chand is effective as the Witch, particularly prior to her transformation.  Abby Lee is appropriately beautiful as Cinderella and very moving in the "No One Is Alone" sequence.

John Patrick Hayden as the Baker and Andrea Wollenberg as the Baker's Wife are both wonderful actor/singers.  They shine in their scenes as well as their solos and duets.  Lilly Tobin is just plain terrific as Little Red Ridinghood.  Time restraints prevent me from mentioning the rest of this strong cast.

Director Gregory Ramos has put together a powerful production of this complex musical.  One small quibble - I feel that his choreography for "Last Midnight" is a bit busy. Otherwise, pretty much everything works and works well.

INTO THE WOODS is a favorite of mine for personal reasons that I won't go into.  Late in Act II I invariably have to pull out the kleenex.  Mounting the show is an ambitious undertaking that Chuck Tobin, Producing Artistic Director, has managed to pull off.  It's a terrific 60th Anniversary present for St. Michael's Playhouse.

On a scale of one to five the St. Michael's Playhouse production of INTO THE WOODS gets four and seven eighths covered bridges.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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