THEATER REVIEW: “Into the Woods” @ Ohio Light Opera by Kelly Ferjutz

Through Fri 8/9

Once…upon a time…used to end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Didn’t it?

Maybe once upon a time, they did. These days, there are no guarantees. Well, maybe one. If you go to see the production of Into the Woods by the Ohio Light Opera in Wooster between now and August 9, you should be happy that you did!

Once upon a time, Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics for the music composed by others — West Side Story and Gypsy being the most notable examples. But then, he started composing his own songs, and used words written by others. But who’s to say he didn’t help with that, too?

The concept for Into the Woods is brilliant. It begins with four of the most popular fairy tales and mixes them all up in a stew, slightly fracturing them along the way. “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rapunzel” are woven around a previously unknown tale — that of a baker and his wife, who long to have a family of their own.

(Note: several of the larger parts are double cast. Names of performers mentioned here are from the opening performance on June 27.)

During the first act, we meet all these characters, plus their companions. Cinderella (Hilary Koolhaven) of course has a wicked stepmother (Jocelyn Hansen) and two stepsisters, Abby Kurth and Joelle Lachance. Jack (Spencer Reese) has a mother — and what a mother she is, too! Julie Wright Costa puts great exuberance into her role as she pushes Jack out to explore the world, then reels him back in again, along with his cow!

Sadie Spivey as Little Red Riding Hood is terrific, both vocally and visually, while Granny (Michelle Pedersen) is convincing in her minor role. The wolf? Now, he’s a different type of wolf than we’re accustomed to seeing, but fun with it all. Brad Baron literally chews up the scenery as he tries to capture Cindy.

Rapunzel, for some reason, isn’t a major factor, although Ivana Martinic is more than capable. At least her story provides great scenery-chewing options for the witch, and Yvonne Trobe takes advantage of every bite. Rapunzel’s Prince is Aidan Smerud, while Cinderella’s Prince is Benjamin Dutton. The Steward is Garrett Medlock, while the Narrator and Mysterious Man are neatly delineated by the energetic and bouncy Ted Christopher. You’ll think he has springs attached to the bottom of his shoes. There are brief appearances at the very end by Elizabeth Perkins as Snow White (minus dwarves) and Kelly Curtin as Sleeping Beauty.

The glue that holds all these stories together (should we perhaps say flour and water?) is provided by the baker of Jacob Allen and his wife, Sarah Best. They’re a very normal, almost ordinary couple who just happen to live in the woods. The only blight on their horizon is the lack of children, and once the witch hears that — look out!

She devises a plan whereby the baker must finagle something of value from Cinderella, Jack, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. If he is successful, and brings her their treasures, she will provide a baby.

The first act is the telling of this larger story, wound around and through the familiar fairy tales. It’s bright and colorful, with great songs and singing. Stage director Steven Daigle keeps a brisk pace throughout, while still allowing breathing space between the vignettes, so one is never confused by what is happening. His very able collaborator, conductor  J. Lynn Thompson, keeps the OLO orchestra perfectly in tune with the various demands made by the complex score.

The second act demonstrates how easily everything can fall apart once you have what you thought you wanted. Jack has slain the giant, and now his widow, the Giantess, played by Elizabeth Pedersen, demands Jack’s life in exchange. Some of the forest’s inhabitants are in favor of turning him over, others resist, with varying degrees of success. All of them lose something of personal value along the way.

Nothing is as it seems, and when the two princes (Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s) do their reprise of the first act’s “Agony,” it’s all too believable.

The awesome set by Daniel Hobbs involves huge drops with multi-storied trees spaced evenly across the stage and a stepped platform at center front.  The costumes of Anne Medlock are mostly bright colored and beautiful — especially Cinderella’s ball gown, which gets very hard usage. Lighting is by Brittany Shemuga and sound by Christopher Plummer.

[Written by Kelly Ferjutz]

Ohio Light Opera


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One Response to “THEATER REVIEW: “Into the Woods” @ Ohio Light Opera by Kelly Ferjutz”

  1. Steven Ledbetter

    It is true that Sondheim’s first produced shows used his lyrics to music by others, but I’m not aware that he ever wrote music to lyrics by others. From his early Saturday Night (which precedes West Side Story but was not produced until much later) to his latest shows, he has always written both lyrics and music.

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