REVIEW: Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts Delights Audiences with “Into the Woods”

Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts, Into the Woods

Jacksonville University presented four performances of James Lapine’s award winning musical “Into The Woods” from November 1 to 4 at Swisher Theatre.

This musical won three Tony Awards on Broadway in 1987. It was made into a movie in 2014 with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp and grossed over 200 million dollars at the box office.

This is one of the most unique musicals in that the script combines several fairy tales into one story with the paths of familiar characters crossing and changing their lives. The cast is large and it takes a skilled Director Kimberly Beasley to keep all those hoops in the air without losing sight of the lives of the characters.

Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts Delights Audiences with “Into the Woods”

JU musicals are known for having wonderful voices in their musicals and there was a stage full of excellent well trained actors and singers. In addition to singing the cast engaged in witty word play and well-executed physical comedy.

The first act concerns a baker (Axel Berry) and his wife (Isabella Martinez) who have no children due to a curse placed on them by The Witch (Emily Pate) that requires them to obtain four items to lift the spell. They must find a white cow, the red cap of Red Riding Hood (Kelly Wolfe), hair the color of corn from Rapunzel (Jackie Glassman) and a slipper pure as gold.

Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts Delights Audiences with “Into the Woods”

Many characters are encountered as the action progresses including Cinderella (Shauna Clark), her mother (Candace Dickens), her step mother (Sarah Stepp), Florinda (Melissa Allen), Lucinda (Andrea Vilarino), Jack of bean stalk fame (Joshua Andrew), Jack’s Mother (Alexandra Gravine), Rapunzel (Jackie Glassman), Rapunzel’s Prince (Nic Gonzales), Granny (Cailyn Cook), Steward (Abrien Nelson) ,Snow White(Kalei Dela Cruz) and Sleeping Beauty (Rachel Sandowski). Christopher Mandel plays Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf. Joseph Mahoney is the Narrator and Mysterious Man. The voices of Nati Gonzales as the Giant, and Cinderella’s father (Ben Beck), are heard over the sound system.

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.

This musical is the very first performed with computer generated music rather than a live JU orchestra. Under expertise of Music Director Benjamin Beck it sounded excellent. This was also training for those cast members who are planning to go into professional theatre upon graduation since many theatre to control cost use similar systems now.

The only glitch technically was when a microphone of the Narrator went dead in Act I and it was difficult to hear him above the music. He came back with a new mike in Act II and that was appreciated by audience applause.

Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts Delights Audiences with “Into the Woods”

Scenic Designer, Brandon Lettow,  filled the stage with hugh tree trunks to create an interesting forest. Lighting Designer Austin Kelm further presented a foreboding forest.

Costume Designer Curtis Williams created the authentic fanciful and colorful costumes.

The cast, besides having such talent voices that handled Stephen Sondheim’s amazingly complex lyrics and music, presented enjoyable witty word play and well-executed physical comedy and thus a musical that was uproariously entertaining.

Coming up in the spring, JU will present another well known musical “Legally Blonde”. Plan to see that one for sure. JU and Swisher always take a commendable and flexible approach to theater prices that everyone can afford.

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.