Arts and Entertainment

‘Into the Woods’ is a feast of storytelling and song | Review

Marshall Murray, Alexis Carleton, Gordon Millar, Hannah Fellbaum and Stephanie Murray look up to see a giant in the sky in Drama Dock’s production of “Into the Woods.”  - Terry Behal Photo
Marshall Murray, Alexis Carleton, Gordon Millar, Hannah Fellbaum and Stephanie Murray look up to see a giant in the sky in Drama Dock’s production of “Into the Woods.”
— image credit: Terry Behal Photo

By JANICE RANDALL
For The Beachcomber

Drama Dock’s rendition of Into the Woods, under the capable direction of Charlotte Tiencken, sparks the imagination, incites laughter and entertains, all while reminding us of the infallible human spirit.

Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical reunites favorite fairy tale characters and weaves an unconventional plot ripe with surprise, loads of action and complex, thoughtful lyrics that ultimately lead us into the woods where magic happens.

Stage magic does indeed happen with each intrepid actor. The multi-generational casting works on every level, and as in so many island productions, talent abounds.

From the moment narrator Stephen Floyd (an amazingly agile actor) introduces us to “Once Upon a Time” characters Cinderella, Jack in the Beanstalk, his milkless cow Milky White, his nagging mother, an argumentative baker and his wife and Little Red Riding Hood, havoc ensues.

Start to finish, Lizzy Schoen sings her lonely Cinderella heart out with skill beyond her years. Isaac Hughes, as Jack, brings it on again and again with wide range and unmatched exuberance. Alivia Jones, the prettiest cow you’ll ever meet, excels with her unfaltering, non-verbal expression. And Patricia Kelly, adept as always, is relentlessly verbal with her son Jack.

The story centers on the baker and his wife, played by Marshall and Stephanie Murray, who set a disastrous chain of events into action with their desperation for a child. Their real-life chemistry transitions to stage with top-notch vocals and consistent spot-on timing. Ellie Hughes, as Little Red, skips and sings throughout the play with the grace and charm of a seasoned actress.

Then the witch appears. Mesmerizing Maggie Laird, unrecognizable as the embodiment of twitchy evil, merges her venerable acting and singing chops in this role, made famous by Bernadette Peters. She has her poignant moments too. Having kidnapped and raised golden-haired Rapunzel (Zoey Rice) as her own by locking her in the tower, Laird’s character shows a vulnerable moment in “Stay with Me,” a lovely and unlikely mother/daughter duet sung with Rice, who adroitly manages comedy and outrage simultaneous with her fetching voice.

Cinderella’s catty stepmother is perfectly portrayed by Alexis Carleton. And the cantankerous sisters Florinda and Lucinda, played by Hannah Fellbaum and Maria Gilmour, offer comic relief at every opportunity. (Victoria Trujillo will play Fellbaum’s role this weekend).

Gordon Millar shows up as Cinderella’s henpecked father and later, hilariously appears as Little Red’s tough, angry bearded grandmother.

When Rapunzel’s egocentric and dashing prince (Will Wassmann) takes the stage, his melodious voice fills the room and the mirror he keeps in his back pocket offers many opportunities for him to appreciate his own handsome face. Paired with his equally vain and gorgeous brother, Cinderella’s prince (David Katz),  the two provide a delightful Monty Python-style wit from choreographed sword-fighting duels to song. In the tune “Agony,” they lament life’s travails with heartfelt humor and luckily, we even get to hear a reprise. Calen Winn returns to the Vashon stage, more solid than ever, as Cinderella’s chorus of advisory birds and the princes’ steward.

Phil Dunn plays Little Red Riding Hood’s quintessential wolf. His dance scene with Little Red is unforgettable, when his eyes glitter hungrily as the charmingly big, bad wolf. Bravo for creative production techniques that bring realism without anything being scary for younger audience members.

The end of Act I, complete with everyone getting exactly what they wished for, has the audience believing everyone lives happily ever after — but not so much.

Act II starts with “So Happy,” but discontent is mounting. When the giant’s angry widow returns for revenge, the story takes a clever twist and a few dark turns to help the characters fully evolve. And like all fairy tales, morality, mayhem and magic, along with a hefty dose of courage and a whole lot of spirit, leave us contemplating the alchemy of life.

Throughout the show, the actors sing to Paul Swenson’s athletic piano accompaniment. Swenson, the show’s musical director, has clearly done a great job preparing the actors for their roles — the demands of singing Sondheim’s music cannot be understated, so Swenson’s contribution here has been crucial.

The beautiful set and lighting design by Judith Cullen is also praiseworthy. Cullen also contributed her talent to the production by providing the giant’s recorded voice.

Be prepared, this is a long play, so enjoy intermission treats to sustain you through Act II, where all the best action happens. Most importantly, we’ll all be singing “Into the Woods” for the foreseeable future.

— Janice Randall is a writer, theater artist and the former director of communications and performing arts for Vashon Allied Arts.

“Into the Woods” will have more performances on July 25, 26, 27 and 28 at Bethel Church. Thursday through Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m. Buy tickets, $20 and $15, at the door, Vashon Bookshop, and www.brownpapertickets.com.

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