Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine take us Into the Woods with their brilliant musical that examines individual, family, and communal responsibility through a retelling and merging of several Grimm fairy tales, ending the first act on a “happily ever after” note, and letting the second act tell us what happens after happily ever after.

And Broadway Training Center in Irvington, New York guided us through this particular tour through the woods – that place in the fairy tales where dangers lurk outside our more comfortable homes and villages. And Director Jason Brantman has a clever way of guiding us. There’s always a Narrator in the show, usually telling the story to the audience. In this case, the Narrator (Elizabeth Geiger) is composing the tale, thinking it up as she goes along, beginning in the morning still dressed in her robe, and later in the day dressed in a work suit, the characters sometimes waiting for her to tell them what to do, the Witch shushing her at one point when she reveals a secret, Elizabeth narrating in an easy manner, comfortable she’s in full control of her story. Until she isn’t.

Michael Rudd, Arra Gentile, and Alessandra DiMonaHer story revolves around a poor Baker and his wife who are desperate to reverse a curse against their house that has left them unable to bear children, the Witch next door having placed the curse when the Baker’s father stole from her garden. The Witch offers a chance to reverse the spell if the couple can provide her with the ingredients she needs for a potion – a cape as red as blood, a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Pretty soon they’re running into these items thanks to such neighbors as Cinderella, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.

BTC fields a strong cast for the show. Michael Rudd and Arra Gentile make a great husband-and-wife team as the bakers, whether they’re flirting in a duet or struggling to haggle for a milky white cow. They also have some strong scenes separated from each other, with Arra’s Moments in the Woods and Michael’s soul searching near the end. Alessandra DiMona is the Witch who causes the couple such anguish, both mentally and physically (including a classic moment as the wife looks at her husband with bemused pity as he again gets hit where it hurts, before she herself gets a taste of it). Alessandra uses her voice to great effect throughout, and transforms nicely from the ugly, hunched, and hilariously wicked Witch of the first act to the tall, stately, beautiful witch of the second act who reacts to her transformation with amusing vanity (but throws a little fit when she realizes that her beauty comes with a price).

And then, of course, there are all the colorful characters from our fairy tales. Blair Brownstein stars as Cinderella, tormented by her stepsisters and stepmother who literally kick her around a bit. But Cinderella isn’t that intimidated by physical aggression, whether she’s yanking around her stepsister’s hair or preparing for some Kung Fu fighting against a baker’s wife who seems strangely obsessed with her slipper made of gold. In addition to a good sense of humor, Blair also boasts a beautiful singing voice. Carrie Lazarovici, Clara Reyes, and Sarah Sanders are Maddy Kolker and Harry Sudock her tormenters who clearly relish their roles, and are clearly eager to win the prince over. So much so that they are willing to suffer some orthopedic surgery. As the stepmother cuts off one of her daughter’s heels, it accidentally pops out into the audience, whereupon the stepmother asks for the foot part back and then secures it casually in her bosom.

Then there’s Maddy Kolker who has the ability to make you laugh anytime you see her. She’s an especially bloodthirsty Little Red, not above using a breadstick as a lethal weapon, and who even surprises herself at her morbidity when she catches herself sort of laughing when considering that her Grandma, for all she knows, is already dead. She’s also very susceptible to the niceness of strangers, including a hungry wolf (Harry Sudock) who is sniffing and drooling deliriously over the prospect of eating Little Red and Granny (Tess Gardephe).

Meanwhile, Jack is trying to impress her by climbing up beanstalks. Lily Cohen is the dim but loyal Jack who sings about Giants in the Sky, and who is in love with his pet cow Milky White. And it’s easy to see why. Milky is an actress (usually it’s just a prop), with Erin McMahon using great timing and expressions in making you fall in love with her as much as Jack has. Whether she’s trying to be charming to fetch a good price at market, or reacting in horror at being ridiculed, or trying to squeeze in on some of the love in the Baker and his wife’s It Takes Two duet, or defending her friend Jack with her teeth, or looking doubtful when Jack claims that he’s a man now (apparently the Lily Cohen, Erin McMahon, and Roxy Schoenfeld cow notices that actress Lily Cohen is in the role). Lily and Erin work together beautifully. And Roxy Schoenfeld isn’t too happy about that as Jack’s amusingly frustrated mother full of personality, and full of disappointment when she expects to get an update on her status from the Narrator, but the Narrator has nothing for her.

Elsewhere, Todd Ritch and Ross Flores are comically agonizing princes to Cinderella and Rapunzel, with Wynnie Van Dusen as the crazy Rapunzel who is quite relieved when she gets her prince back (and can give him one of their twin babies to hold, saying under her breath, “Oh, finally. Can you take one?”). Jesse Deen is the spry Mysterious Man, Andrew Wang is the pompous Steward, and George McCann is Cinderella’s father who made such a horrendous mistake when he married Cinderella’s stepmother. Not to forget the three birds who humorously help out Cinderella.

The director and cast have a lot of fun with the show, as described above, as well as throw-ins like the melodramatic reunion of father and son done in slow motion (during which a young kid in the audience cracks everyone up further by asking, “What happened?”). And they capture some of the drama in the script as well as the community falls apart, and at the end where the Baker’s Wife gets almost too choked up to sing her song. The choreography and staging is nicely put together, with good costumes and sets to help transport us deep into the woods full of wolves and witches and humans trying to find their way through the world.

Performs March 28 - 30, 2008.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Cinderella: Blair Brownstein
Cinderella's Stepmother: Tyler Burr
Jack: Lily Cohen
Mysterious Man: Jesse Deen
Witch: Alessandra DiMona
Rapunzel's Prince: Ross Floras
Granny/Giant/Snow White: Tess Gardephe
Narrator: Elizabeth Geiger
Baker's Wife: Arra Gentile
Little Red: Maddy Kolker
Cinderella's Mother/Sleeping Beauty: Carrie Lazarovici
Cinderella's Father: George McCann
Milky White: Erin McMahon
Lucinda: Clara Reyes
Cinderella's Prince: Todd Ritch
Baker: Michael Rudd
Florinda: Sarah Sanders
Jack's Mother: Roxy Schoenfeld
Wolf: Harry Sudock
Rapunzel: Wynnie Van Dusen
Steward: Andrew Wang

Director: Jason Brantman and Fiona Santos
Musical Director: Fiona Santos


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