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Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea opened its 50th season with the Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine" musical “Into The Woods.” After opening on Broadway in 1987, the play won Tony Awards for Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress. And it probably would have won the award for best musical as well, if “Phantom of the Opera” hadn’t been a competitor. The Disney Company made “Woods” into a film in 2014, starring Meryl Streep, Tracy Ullman, and Johnny Depp. The film grossed over two hundred million dollars, and ignited a renewed interest in the musical by theatres throughout the world.

Now regarded as one of theatre’s most unique musicals, the script initially merges several fairy tales into one story, letting the paths of familiar characters cross, resulting in encounters that influence and change the lives of others. In Act Two, we see what follows after the characters have lived happily “ever after.” This show is extraordinarily complex, and is difficult to stage. The plot is challenging for both the performers and the audience members. Advisory: Despite the fairy-tale characters, this is not a show for kids.

The music is challenging for the performers who must be both accomplished thespians and exceptional singers to handle Sondheim’s demanding score. Players has an exception eight-piece band tucked away backstage consisting of Anthony Felton, Greg Hersey, Greg Balut, Alex Henandez, Paul Lee, Joseph Henderson, Julai Sedloff, and Stephen Rees.

The first act revolves around a baker and his wife who are childless due to a curse by a witch played by Amy Allen Farmer, who adds another spectacular performance to her extensive resume in a role that she has wanted to do for some time. To lift the spell, the couple must obtain four items in a sort of a scavenger hunt: a white cow, the red cape of the animated and delightful Red Ridinghood (Emma Yeoman, a Douglas Anderson freshman), hair the color of corn, which belongs to Rapunzel (Katherine Herndon, a Douglas Anderson student with major in Performance Theatre), and a slipper as pure as gold.

Characters we meet as the action progresses include Cinderella (Lauren Hancock, a Douglas Anderson student making her Players’ debut) and her Prince (Mitchell Wohl, who previously appeared as Judas in “Godspell” at Players), who marry. The Baker (Craig Wickless, who appeared as Charlie in “Dirty Blond” at ABET) and his wife (Leslie Richart, who portrayed Diana in “Next to Normal” at FJCJ) succeed in satisfying the demands of the witch and will be having a child. Jack (Mario Noto, a Douglas Anderson junior) kills a giant, much to the dismay of his mother (Susan Roth, who appeared at Players last year in “All The Way” and “La Cage Aux Folles”. But all come to realize that their hopes and dreams have not been fulfilled; the lesson learned is that actions have consequences and we must go “into the woods” and confront them.

Many other interesting characters add to the story, especially in the second act. Jan Peter Buksar is a major player as the narrator and as a man of mystery. He has an acting degree from the Big Apple’s NYU, and has established himself as a fine actor in productions at several of our local theatres. As Rapunzel’s Prince, Franklin Ritch shows off his dancing and singing abilities. He previously appeared at Players in “The Red Line,” a well-received original play.

Actor David Medina grew up doing theatre at Jacksonville’s Foundation Academy, and we have reviewed many of his performances. Now a UNF senior and a polished performer, he appears as the Wolf and the Steward. Jennifer Medina plays Cinderella’s stepmother in her Players debut; in real life, she has three sons and has been a teacher for a number of years.

photo: Cathy Jones

Two talented ladies play Cinderella’s taunting stepsisters. Katy Polk, an FSU graduate in Voice Performance, appears as Florinda; Amanda Faye, who debuted with Players in “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” appears as Lucinda. Rounding out the cast is Allen Morton in the cameo role of Granny and as the voice of the giant. Mr. Morton also designed the set, filling the stage with large tree trunks to create a foreboding forest.

A special note about Milky White. We have seen this show a number of times since it debuted in 1987, and the white milk cows we have encountered in the past have been constructions of cardboard or fabric on a wheeled platform. Players takes an altogether different approach by using a live actor, and Jocelyn Geronimo’s performance is remarkable; involving bending over with her hands on the floor to portray the animal walking and dancing!

Costume Designer Amy Hancock has been involved with theaters for thirty years. Her colorful creations for this show are a visual delight.

photo: Cathy Jones

If you have never seen one of the many plays directed by Dr. Lee Beger during her twenty-eight years as Chair of the Theatre Department at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, this show offers an opportunity to appreciate her talent. Bradley Akers, recently named Artistic Director at Players, is co-director of “Into The Woods.” He was a student at Douglas Anderson and Dr. Beger was his mentor. She was an exceptional educator and Mr. Akers apparently learned his lessons well; after graduating from DASOTA in 2012, he directed “Dog Meets God” at Players the following year, which was chosen as the best play of the year.

The Production Staff included Anthony Felton (Music Director), Jereme Raickett (Production Manager), Ramona Ramdeen (Stage Manager), Aisha McBurnie (Assistant Stage Manager), Samatha Catone (Lighting Designer), and Rachel Jones (Properties Master).

We loved the voices in this show. They were excellent, and there were just too many to point out individually. We are sure you will have your favorites. This entertaining production will be on stage in Jacksonville Beach through October 8, 2016. Call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org for additional information and reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.