It’s Saturday night at the JBK Theatre on the Campus of the Frederick Community College and time for us to venture Into the Woods. The 1998 Stephen Sondheim musical, which intertwines many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, got a new lease of life after the release of the 2014 Disney movie and it’s the Fredericktowne Players opening show of their 2017/18 season. The first impression is a positive one as the set design by Morgan Southwell and Steve Knapp is simple but visually impressive. The back wall and flats feature intricately painted woodland scenes and there are two platforms, one across the rear of the stage, and another, like a catwalk, leading down center.
The curtain speech is delivered by a man in a grey suit and as the lights fade they are quickly brought back up to reveal he is in fact our narrator (Bob Ashby) for the evening. This is a nice touch but although the suit clearly distinguishes Ashby as separate from the rest of the action it makes him feel disconnected with the delivery more sale figures in the boardroom than imaginative storytelling. The lighting design of Steve Knapp works well in conjunction with the set giving the impression of sunlight finding its’ way through a canopy of branches – the slight distraction of the shadows across the faces of the actors is the price to pay for the effect.
Despite the initial aesthetic impact of the set, the limitations of the one fixed location quickly become apparent. The nature of the entrances and delivery become repetitive and overly presentational. Zach Harris, making his directorial debut, addressed this to an extent by using the stairs at either end of the stage as alternative ways of transitioning the action but unfortunately this adds to the overall feel that the pace is dragging a little. Finding more opportunities to utilize choreographer Kendall Sigman would have helped the overall balance of the show but it is difficult to pinpoint in this production where Sigman influenced the movement.
Little Red (Kaitlin McCallion) ups the energy whenever she is on the stage and her interactions with the Wolf (Alex Prete) are some of the best moments of the first act. McCallion brings a lot of attitude to the role and is always engaging but at times her delivery becomes screechy and difficult to understand. There are diction issues throughout the show, at times caused by the speed and nature of the delivery and at others due to the volume of the unseen orchestra which overpowers the actors. The Baker’s Wife (Lisa Shinn) and The Baker (William Lewis) give two of the strongest performances of the night. Shinn and Lewis are very good vocally but it’s the sincerity they bring to their relationship that makes them standout. Clay Comer has a commanding stage presence and comes close to stealing the show as Cinderella’s Prince. Comer’s duet with Rapunzel’s Prince (Steve Gondre-Lewis) on Agony (and later in the reprise) is the most interesting and entertaining of the night as the two men complement each other perfectly.
Music Director, Matt Dohm, has plenty of talent to work with and it’s a very solid show vocally. The Witch (Robin Samek) sounds simply beautiful on Stay with Me and Jack (Cam Sammartano) makes every word of I Guess This is Goodbye and Giants in the Sky believable. Neither Samek nor Sammartano find this truth in their character work however, to the extent that the deaths that occur in the second act completely pass us by until they are referenced by someone else on stage. We need the musical honesty that is displayed at its’ raw best on Your Fault to carry over into the acting and we are left wanting.
There are plenty of good choices along the way – the presence of the Giant is handled simply and effectively and the magic of the witch achieved with smart sound and lighting choices. There are more confused moments where Cinderella’s Prince arrives on a carousel horse complete with coconut shell sound effects lifted halfheartedly from Spamalot. A needless sound effect suddenly asks us to believe there is a door to the home of Jack and his Mother where such logic to comings and goings has long since been discarded by the audience. The costumes work well for the most part (the exception being Cinderella’s dress which is the sort of thing bridesmaids have nightmares about) adding to the sense that this looks like a good show. The tickets are competitively priced and it is encouraging to see a young director given an opportunity that he will only improve from.
#tothepoint Rating: 60/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $15
Value Review: +$5