Into the Woods (Review)

Covedale’s Into the Woods is hopeful, if not happy ever after

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click to enlarge Into the Woods at the Covedale Center
Into the Woods at the Covedale Center

Critic's Pick

If you’re excited by the imminent arrival (Dec. 25) of a movie version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, you can get ready for the experience by catching a performance of the show at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. The fairytale mash-up might lack the film’s star power (with Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and other big names), but it’s a very satisfying rendition of a show that appeals fundamentally because of its familiar subject matter.
It’s not an easy show to produce. It needs about a dozen really strong voices to play the many challenging roles — a cranky witch, Cinderella and her stepmother and stepsisters, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Jack (who grows a big beanstalk), Rapunzel, a pair of handsome but empty-headed princes, a Baker and his wife. The Covedale, showing increasing strength as a presenter of challenging material, has done just that with this production, staged and choreographed by Matthew Wilson.
As the Baker and his Wife, Rodger Pille and Allison Muennich are especially good singers and actors, as is Erin Nicole Donahue as Cinderella. Megan Ainsley Callahan is a feisty, fierce Red Ridinghood. The princes require big operatic voices, and Tyler Kuhlman and Tyler Alessi have them. (Alessi also plays the lascivious Wolf.) Jack (Robert Breslin) is boyish and charming, his mother (Lesley Hitch) is pragmatic and their sad cow Milky White (puppeteer Elizabeth Chinn Molloy) wins us over. Michelle Wells successfully transitions from a manipulative old crone to glamorous but not so powerful witch. Each actor has mastered Sondheim’s complex, sometimes humorous and often insightful lyrics.
Into the Woods presents these familiar tales, intertwining them and delivering more or less happy conclusions. But then it’s intermission, followed quickly by reality. Jack’s run-in with the Giant has dire consequences, the Baker’s wife has a demanding baby and a moment of infidelity, Cinderella’s handsome prince abandons her, and no one is at all content. The show works in a profound way that entertains — and teaches. It’s distinct from from predictable, jaunty musicals, more resembling the not always comfortable real world. Truth to tell, Covedale’s Into the Woods is more hopeful than happy. The show’s final words are a wistful “I wish.”


INTO THE WOODS, presented by the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continues through Nov. 16.


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