PLAYERS MUSICAL THEATRE STUDIO REVIEW
The Dual Critics ventured down to Jacksonville Beach on May 2, 2015 for a Saturday matinee performance of “Into the Woods” at Players by the Sea. The Stephen Sondheim musical, filled with characters from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, received multiple Tonys after opening on Broadway in 1987 and has had several successful revivals. It reached mainstream America during last year’s Christmas season when a film adaptation became a big hit. As a result of the film, the musical has once again become a popular on-stage choice for theatres throughout the country.
The Musical Theatre Studio is part of The Performing Arts Studio at Players, which also includes Acting and Dance Theatre Studios. The Studio’s mission is to provide quality instruction in all three areas, with classes offered to a diverse array of students of all ages.
Into The Woods, Jr.” is a special adaption for young performers, done in one act, and just a bit less than ninety minutes long. The delightful production we saw was directed by Erik DiCicco working closely with Educational Director Gary Baker, who handled the technical aspects. This dynamic duo also created all the costumes, using Player’s large accumulated collection.
The cast of twenty-seven had students from grades one through twelve. The simple program listed all their names but no biographies. The talent ranged from youngsters making their first stage appearance to others who were obviously experienced.
The musical is tied together with an original story about a childless baker and his wife who are unable to have a baby because of a witch’s curse. The witch tells them she will remove the curse only if they collect a list of items she wants and bring them to her. To accomplish this task, the couple must interact with many other characters, including Cinderella, Jack with his magic beans, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Granny, and the Wolf.
Several of the students displayed singing talents that we anticipate will lead to future appearances in musicals on our local stages. We were especially impressed with the vocals of Mallorie Sievert as Cinderella; this young lady obviously has had vocal training. Charlie Pennella as Cinderella’s Prince was one of the most animated of the cast, and based on the applause received, was a crowd favorite.
The main-stage production used the set from the recently completed play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The exterior of a large house, which included openings for entrances and exits, filled the background. The cast worked with recorded music, which in itself was excellent training as due to cost issues, more and more theatres across the county are using tape or computers rather than live musicians. We were also impressed with the intricate stage movements (blocking) which required precision and energetic engagement from the entire cast.
The featured actors and their roles included: Jack Niemczyk, Baker; Annabelle Barnett, Baker’s Wife; Xander Grant, Cinderella’s Father; Sasha Heylock, Cinderella’s Mother; Emily Chesire, Cinderella’s Stepmother; Emma Murphy, Florinda; Ciara White, Lucinda; Hannah Thomsen, Jack; Ceci Ann Puklos, Jack’s Mother; Bella Dorsett, Little Red Riding Hood; Livia Wilson, Granny; Deena Davis, Wolf; Nicole Massey, Mysterious Man; Asata Nhau-Davis, Rapunzel; Christian Douglas, Rapunzel’s Prince; Michelangelo Porter, Steward; and Hannah Niemczyk, The Witch.
The narrators, who zipped in and out with commentary and descriptions of the action to come, included Abigail Douglas, Isabella Hovan, Oriana Guarno, Alexa Roberts, Skylar Morgan, Katharina Rosenthal, Gabrielle Lehman, and Mackenzie Ricketson.
As part of this program, the Acting Studio presented “Fractured Fairy Tales,” a non-musical version, later in the evening, which we were not able to attend due to other commitments.
Players is now taking reservations for summer camps, with offerings of interest to aspiring actors. The titles include: “Let’s Put on a Musical – the Addams Family,” “Let’s Put on a Play,” “Horror Theatre on Film,” “Improvapalooza,” “Character Zone,” and “Camp-A-Go-Go.”
We really enjoyed “Into the Woods” and appreciated the talents and enthusiasm of the cast members who were dedicated to entertaining us. The last song the entire company sang entitled “Children Will Listen” was one of the best songs in the show, and had the entire audience listening as well.