Into The Woods

Theatre Jacksonville opened its final show of the 2008-2009 season, with the l987 musical Into the Woods. It will continue on their stage at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco Blvd, until June 27th. Call 396-4425 for reservations.
Regarded by many as one of the greatest musicals of the past 30 years, the book by James Lapine, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, puts several fairy tales into one story, letting their paths cross and causing each person’s actions to influence the others’ lives.
In Act II, with insight into human nature, we see what happens after they “have lived happily ever after”. Cinderella (Kendra Holton Helton) marrying a Prince (Shaun Patrick Adams), the Baker (Juan Unzueta), and his wife (Staci Cobb) having a child, Jack (Chris Robertson) killing a giant much to the chagrin of his critical mother (Judy Gould)… all suddenly realize everything does not live up to expectations. The lesson learned is that actions cause consequences and that we must go “into the woods” and face and confront them with another action.
This is an extraordinarily and amazingly complex show and hard to do. Notwithstanding the presence of fairy-tale characters, this is not a show for kids, especially small ones. The plot is challenging to the audience. The music challenging to the performers who must not only be good actors but exceptional singers to handle the demanding score that composer Stephen Sondheim always seems to bestow on his creations. Theatre Jacksonville has an exceptional six piece orchestra lead by the talented and unflappable Samuel Clein as conductor and on the piano. He is ably assisted on keyboard by Laura Peden who certainly knows her way around musical theatre. Rounding the musicians are Mara Rys (Flute), Brooke Dansberger (Clarinet) and Evan Peterson (Percussion).
This critic is pleased to apprise that Theatre Jacksonville measures up to the responsibility admirably with all seventeen performers of this highly talented cast filing his or her role with confidence and ability.
The first act action revolves around the baker and his wife who are childless due to a curse by a witch (Regina Torres) who lives next door. To lift the spell they must obtain three items in sort of a scavenger hunt. First, a milk -white cow, second the red cape of the frisky and delightful Red Riding Hood (Schuyler Velasco) and third, hair the color of corn which just happens to belong to Rapunzel (Cori Running) .You will find Jack’s roll-around cow utterly fascinating. The cow, by the way, arrived in town by truck, having just finished this same show up in Yankee land.
You will find many interesting characters who add to the story, especially in the more serious second half. Susan J. Roche plays three roles, Cinderella’s mother, Granny, and is the voice of the Giant that is only heard over the loudspeakers. Cinderella’s step sisters, who are very funny despite making life hell for Cindy, are Julia Fallon as Florinda and Kellie Wyatt as Lucinda. Gary Lee Webber as Rapunzel’s prince is tall and handsome in his Theatre Jacksonville debut. In two of the smaller roles but contributing much humor to the proceedings are Bob Shellenberger as Cinderella’s father and Joe Matt DeCandio as the steward.
The final key role in the show is that of the narrator, played by Director Michael Lipp, not by design but by necessity due to illness by the actor who had the part. Lipp stepped into this big role, about a week before opening, enlisted the aid of Executive Director Sarah Boone to help with the play direction. Lipp as well plays the mysterious man (that is all I can tell you about him, he is mysterious), and he does both roles with such polish you would think he had been in them for months.
This show is a visual delight. Tracy Olin’s costumes with a Germanic theme (like Grimm’s fairy tales) are fabulous. She has done so many shows locally and usually makes ALL the costumes from scratch. She keeps topping herself and that is saying something when you have done the costumes for Sweeney Todd and Othello just to name a couple.
Scenic Designer Kelly Wagoner and a lot of volunteers have created delightful trees that revolve and become other things. It is like magic and needs to be experienced. I want you to pay attention to the wonderful lighting design that Technical Director Jeff Wagoner has created. I know it is hard to concentrate on lights because all those characters running in and out all the time but you will be well rewarded. There must be over one hundred light cues that also include some interesting special effects. One of the difficult back stage roles in this show is the Stage Manager performed by Shannon Jones and ably assisted by Rhianna Hurt and Alex Sofras.
I loved the voices in this show. They were not only good but excellent. There were just too many to point out each individually. I am sure you will have your favorites.
Michael Lipp’s definite direction is one of the reasons this show succeeds. He has directed around sixty shows in the Jacksonville area, and he is still a very young man. He has the uncanny ability to take each cast, whether large or small and inspire them to become a dedicated ensemble devoted to putting on the best show possible. He certainly has done that with In to the Woods. Don’t miss your trip to the woods.