PLAY REVIEW: The quest for happily ever after
“Into the Woods” features an enthusiastic cast from the Flat River Community Players that provides a high-energy ensemble, conveyed enthusiasm and an infectious animated energy that gives nearly flawless performances in this remake of the 1987 Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine charming musical.
“Into the Woods” performances are at the Greenville High School Performing Arts Center 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Produced by Cheryl Willard with music direction from Charlotte Lothian, the Players bring the story about the inhabitants from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales into a version that will have viewers realizing we are all in this together. The Greenville High School’s Performing Arts Center is the perfect venue for this production, according to Kathy Jo VanderLaan who plays Jack’s mother.
“Being here performing in this gorgeous venue is excellent and it is such a wonderful opportunity to work with an exceptional cast,” Kathy Jo VanderLaan said.
The beginning stage setting is divided into three parts, a bakery at one end humbly suggests the home of the Baker (Timothy Schmidt) and his Wife (Lindsay Tallian), in the center we see the home of Jack (Nicholas VanderLaan) his cow Milky White (Alivia Gilbertson) and his Mother (Kathy Jo) and on the other end Cinderella (Meagan Draper) scrubs away at the floor.
The Witch (Allyson Paris), who lives next door to the Baker, is also the director of this production. The Witch, the baker, his wife, Jack, his mother and Cinderella are the main characters that drive the initial action, the direction from Paris, keeps this musical from becoming a confusing web of intertwined characters, feverishly zigzagging this space. The cast’s performance is unmistakable enchantment and this production works because it focuses on the raw humanity of the main characters.
“Hopefully those coming to see this fairytale will look past the darkness,” Nicholas VanderLaan said. “See the moral of this story and how it represents our need for each other.”
The stage looks impressive, thanks to the leafy outdoor setting made up of wooden platforms and ramps framed by towering trees, including one scene topped by a bird’s nest-like chamber tower from which Rapunzel (Elizabeth VanderLaan) is in a perfect position to let down her famous hair.
Others who populate the stage include narrator (Mark Dombroske), Cinderella’s mother (Valerie Vandermark), stepmother (Katy McDonough), Florinda (Brianna Van Houten), Lucinda (Emily Perusse) and two Princes (Jeremiah Souza and Andrew Samson).
They will meet on overlapping paths of hopes, wishes, dreams and tragedies as they fulfill their individual quests. Though there is one quest that seems more about the meal than anything else, Macy Risch as a spunky Little Red Riding Hood, and a delightfully cunning Ric Davenport as the Wolf who courts his future meal with inquiries of her destination while relishing in her scent and the basket of goodies she carries.
Schmidt skillfully tackles the role of the Baker in the musical. Schmidt avoids obvious sappiness by showing vulnerability when he struggles with the ethics of his quest.
“Our lesson in this struggle is we have to be a team,” Schmidt said. “When you get what want then as a team we should not be afraid to fight for it.”
It is that struggle to complete the quest that builds the chemistry between the Schmidt and Tallian when they go into the woods.
“We have to work together in this quest,” Tallian said. “Then we have to work even harder to keep our happily ever after once we get it.”
Paris starts off alluringly enough playing the Witch, completely engaging the audience as the calculating old hag. Then even her dreams are challenged as the story plays out on the stage.
The show flourishes with clever conversation and insights into the human need for fulfilling dreams. This production does an excellent job displaying the joy of receiving and the tragedy of loss and all loose ends are wrapped up with happy smiles and the ensemble gleams with an enthusiasm that will move the audience.