Into the Woods: A Review and Retrospective

 

   Before beginning this review I think it is imperative to note that this is a high school production. Therefore I will not be judging it on the same grounds as a full-on broadway show. I suspect that would be pretty obvious, but I’m sure some of you will immediately take to twitter to complain how I unfairly judged you, which is certainly not going to be the case. If I have any problems with this production it is on those terms.

   Now with that said I quite enjoyed myself while watching this show. There are a few ways to look at the show. First I will be reviewing the performances. I honestly finding it a little silly to critique the performances of teenagers who I am sure are not using the merits of such productions to feed their families. That said I will continue. Going down the list, we of course have to start with Ms. Foley. Is it just me or does she seem to be a little typecasted. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed every role she has taken. But it seems to me that everytime I see her she plays the narrator. In “Our Town” she played the narrator. In the student-run play “Fostered” she played the Foster Mother who in her own way was the narrator in the story. I suspect it has something to do with her calming voice, which I personally think would be quite adaptable to a medium such as audiobook or even a radio show. Either way she does a fine job as usual in this role. Moving along we Cinderella played by Bianca D’Antonio. With a lot of these roles you can often tell which of these people haven’t consistently participated in the school productions. I’m not saying she doesn’t have any musical talent; clearly she does. What I am saying however is that there is a certain refinement that is inhibited by those who participate consistently in the theatre arts that she seems to lack. Either way she made the most of the role given to her and I wish her the best in her future endeavors.

 

   Going down the list we come to the Baker and the Baker’s wife. The Baker is played by my good friend Andy Carlson. Not the most notable performance in the play, but at the same time I am not sure that it is supposed to be. The Baker by most means is the central character, but I see him more as a plot device for Sondheim to work his themes around. That said the Baker does have a lot of work cut out for him considering he probably has the most “songs”. I say “songs” because “Into the Woods” is basically a light opera. Not many of the lines are spoken and most of it just kinda flows much like an opera would. So with that said, Mr. Carlson’s vocal dexterity is quite impressive and I look forward to seeing him in future productions. Next is the Baker’s Wife played by the always lovely, Molly Raddant. I’ll be completely honest. This one was a shocker to me. It’s not that I didn’t think she could sing or anything. Far from it. But wow did she hit it out of the park with this performance. Ms. Raddant always seemed engaged and had a massive stage presence. Not to mention her vocal ability is spot on and honestly could be compared to a broadway performer. I hope she continues down this path because I think she could honestly become real talent on and off the stage. I hope that wasn’t too much of exaggeration. Moving on, we come to the Stepsisters and the Stepmother; played by Gabi Dixon, Samantha Popp, and Scotia Hille respectively. They honestly did not have enough time on stage for me to make a proper assessment of their individual talents, but they were completely serviceable for what little stage time they had. I feel like I may be spending a little too much time on the performances, so for the rest of them I will try to be a bit more concise.

 When talking about Jack, you have to talk about two things. 1. The Age of the Performer and 2. How he fared despite that. Overall I consider his performance a good effort. With a lot of the freshman performers you can obviously tell that they have not adapted to their voices. You will occasionally hear their voices crack and they miss certain notes that they would normally be able to hit. This is partially the fault of the music director who should probably lower the octave, so the performer does incur vocal strain. But even then you sometimes can’t help the occasional vocal hiccup. Despite that I consider Mr. Kaplan’s performance a good effort by an adapting performer and I’m sure that within the next year this issue will be fixed. That said… There was something I found quite distracting about the wig he was wearing. It was unnatural to say the least. I understand there is a line about his “Carrot Top Hair”, but honestly I’m not sure anyone cares. Here is my suggestion: Get a pen and cut the line out. Trust me, Stephen Sondheim isn’t in the audience, breathing down your neck at every word. Even Tim Burton probably thinks that wig is a little too much. Also if you really wanted to stick to the source material as you will, I think the Wolf might be missing a little something, something. (I would say what that something is, but this might be in the school newspaper… That said Google Images is available for those interested)

  Anywho, Jack’s Mother is played by Isabella Carmenate who puts her best foot forward with a believable performance. Most importantly she seemed like she was having a lot of fun with the role which is something to admire. That could also be said for Little Red Riding Hood played by Jordan McLaughlin, who occasionally suffers the same pubescent problems as Ben Kaplan, but who much like most of her fellow cast members puts forth a lot of energy into her role. She honestly was the most cartoonish of all of the characters which by no means is a bad thing considering that is probably what Sondheim was going for in terms of the cartoonish innocence she exudes. The Witch played by Tessa Hyatt, initially surprised me by deciding not to have a witch voice. Instead she decided to have the voice that reminded me of a girl that attended my Bar Mitzvah. (She kept her normal voice) I eventually got over this and I would be lying if I wasn’t a little impressed by her climbing skills. I have a fear of heights, so anyone climbing over two feet will impress me. Her performance provided that warmth that only a mother could truly convey. How’s that for a compliment? The rest of the performances can kind of be glazed over. Cinderella’s Father and Mother were kind of minor roles. Only the latter really got a decent amount of stage time with her own song. The Mysterious Man is played by Dylan Lavallee who has only a little more stage time than his 4 minute mile. I gotta give a shout out to the Wolf who absolutely killed it with stage presence alone. I don’t know if this was a technical issue or what, but it sounded like he wasn’t singing from his diafragm. I call it “Head Singing”. This often occurs when someone is going through puberty and can’t adjust to their voice. This happened to me in 8th grade too. In a previous version of this review I said that he had no singing ability. I’ll be the first to admit that was a little mean and quite hypocritical. I sometimes forget to realize that there is a difference between constructive criticism and just being plain mean. So I’m sorry about that. The two princes did a fine job with my favorite song “Agony”. I will say I did some investigative work and apparently Spencer Birch was originally slated for the role of Simon Safran’s counterpart. I’m gonna be really honest. The other prince could have used a little more bass. So, I’m not sure the reason behind Mr. Birch declining the role, but I find it odd when people who volunteer to be in a musical decline a role. I hope it was because of academic interference and not because of his ego. No role is too small for anybody. I will say I did find it quite amusing (as a person of lesser height) when one of the characters said something in the realm of Simon having a great amount of height when in reality he was a tad shorter than the person he was attempting to woo. Rapunzel only really had one song, but did play well off of Tessa, in terms of her relationship with the Witch. The rest of the characters did not have enough stage time in order for me to make a proper analysis. That said the chorus did seem like an afterthought, considering they only had like 3 minutes of actual stage time. Now onto the production.

 The stagecraft was fine considering the limited budget they most likely had. I was in an argument the other day with a friend who goes to Walnut Hill. He said that other Public schools had far better production values and that the set seemed a little cheap. But, I think it is important to note that different schools allocate their funds in different ways. So I am sure the students used what they had to their full capability. He also seemed to have been critical of the scene with the Wolf involving shadow puppets. I thought it was quite inventive. I do however have this to say. Wearing black does not mean you are camouflaged. I would have prefered to see the lovely faces of the crew a lot less. How they built the tower like a jungle gym was really a sight to behold when Tessa scaled the behemoth and I’d also like to give a shout out to the people who painted those trees. It’s not that they were anything special, but I know how boring it is to paint things brown. My dad used to paint benches for the Kennedy Middle School musicals. Finally it’s worth noting that the pit band was present. People forget that.

 Now the last part of this review is a retrospective of sorts. First I will be giving my own thoughts on the play itself and then I will be comparing it to other versions I have seen. When it comes to “Into the Woods” I have very little problems with it. It’s classic Sondheim. With it’s timely themes and intricate detail to character. For those who don’t know “Into the Woods” was based on a psychological book to help kids understand adult themes in the form of fairy tales. But if I were to nitpick I would nitpick one small scene. Toward the end of the musical a character cheats on his spouse with another character and then tells that character afterwards that he’s “Only Human”. I’m not sure “being human” really applies to cheating on your spouse. “Being Human” applies to a lot of things I’m not sure having an addiction to adultery is one of them. I understand what he’s trying to get at, but I feel like infidelity is a little more than just a little slip-up. This is resolved by the end as the character breaks up with his wife but it still is a little troubling to say the least. I’m not sure that “cheating is okay as long as you’re happy” is the right message to send to kids… but what do I know. One way it did feel like the movie is that it felt really, really long. I’d suggest bring a neck pillow or sitting in the back row as I did because trust me, you will begin to get antsy. Also this has nothing to do with me having a short attention span. I sat through all 3 Hours and 20 mins of “Malcolm X”, so I’m pretty sure that’s not it. Sometimes I’m not sure the play knows when it’s dragging, but it definitely does. I did however see a version when I was about 9. This version had Natick High Alum, Jake Venet as the Baker and was performed at Kennedy Middle School. To be completely honest I’m pretty sure that whole wolf scene (and most of the play for that matter) went over my head since I was too young to comprehend such things. I miss being 9. Everything seemed so innocent back then.

Editor’s Note: Many of you probably have been wondering about my recent health. I am doing fine. I just needed to have a little pep back in my step. Your boy Benny is back folks. Fired up and ready to go. Columbia here I- (Looks at GPA) UConn here I come!!!!

 

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