Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
A full house streamed into the cozy Elgood Theater Friday evening for Flint Repertory Theatre’s pristine opening performance of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s timeless musical Into the Woods.
Stepping around and over metal platforms, folks soon realized this would be an up close and personal adventure into the land of fairy tales, happy endings and the realities that can emerge in moments.
Director Michael Lluberes has assembled a cast of immense talent to bring this storybook tale to life. In doing so, he and his technical team chose a different path for these woods making them more industrial in nature. Shane Cinal’s multi-layered platforms replete with metal stairs, ramps, even a spiral stair as well as heavy hanging ropes allow for many playing spaces at once.
Vocal expertise is also apparent from the opening full company “Prologue: Into the Woods”. Everyone is impressive beginning with the Narrator (Rico Bruce Wade) who will later transform into the Mysterious Man as will several others appear in more than one role.
Anchoring the storyline, the Baker (Jason Briggs) and his wife (Victoria Huston-Elem) bring joy, sorrow, longing and grief to their roles as they become embroiled in all the tales. Both are strong vocalists; their “It Takes Two” is genuine and engaging.
As for the fairy tale folks, Emily Hadick’s voice is stellar throughout as Cinderella. She and Huston-Elem are wonderful while discussing her suitor – “A Very Nice Prince”. Also, Amanda Kuo is perky, funny, and gritty as Little Red Ridinghood. Accosted by a clearly blood thirsty Wolf (Bill English), she gives up grandma with sweet naiveté while singing “Hello, Little Girl”.
English appears more often as the Prince. He is wonderfully comic and crafty in this role and hysterical in his duet with Rapunzel’s Prince (Bello Pizzimenti) which finds them expressing their “Agony” over the women in their life.
Most of the problems emerge in this tangled tale because Jack (Gage Webster) climbed the beanstalk and stirred up a giant. Webster executes some amazing gymnastics as he sings “Giants in the Sky” while hanging from and climbing a rope to the rafters!
Of course, there’s a witch – isn’t there always a witch? This one is cunning and magical and a mother! Elizabeth Jaffe is wrathful and loud as she storms about threatening and hopefully protecting her daughter, Rapunzel (Veronica Battersby) from Pizzimenti’s Prince.
Others adding to the amazing choral numbers (“First Midnight”, “Ever After”, and “Children Will Listen”) include Meredith Deighton as Florinda, Amy Dolan-Malaney as Jack’s mother, and Maddie Ringvelski as Lucinda.
Further kudos to Chelsie McPhilimy and Sonja Marquis respectively for their amazing light and sound designs which lent credibility and sparked imagination to make it all nearly real!
Interestingly, costumes designed by Brandon R. McWilliams are basically colorless in shades of beige. Nothing bright or cheery (except Red’s cape) detracts from the tales and the folks at their center. They match the set’s ropes that seem to serve as vines, even trees, sometimes hair and to delineate paths and also obscure them. Indeed, it is individual talent that takes center stage.
Overall, this production draws viewers into the action. The Elgood stage demands they be nearly part of the action. The giant and other perils are much more real when they seem to be right there, and the pathos is ever more touching when the tears are up close.
Into the Woods continues through December 15. For more information, times and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at https://FlintRep.org