INTO THE WOODS with the Newtown Arts Company

by Lesley Grigg

The Witch (Danielle Ziemba of Yardley), the Baker’s Wife (Kristin Kauffman of Yardley), Red Ridinghood (Amelia Arrigo of Yardley) and the Baker (Bill Weir of Doylestown) face the Giant in Newtown Arts Company’s production of INTO THE WOODS.

Once upon a time, in a land called Newtown, lived a cast of familiar characters who all had a fairy tale to tell. Just when you thought it would all end happily ever after, you realize the real story has just begun, forcing the Newtown Arts Company to go back INTO THE WOODS.

When a mic-less gentleman stepped out on stage to introduce the show, his lack of projection only slightly hampered the broadcast quality of his voice, but when he introduced himself as the Narrator, I hoped Timothy Costello would eventually speak louder, particularly while narrating during musical numbers.

Some of those musical numbers sounded more like opera performances, like when Jack’s Mother (Heidi Morgan), Cinderella’s Mother (Martha Ellen Smith) – who doubled as a talking tree – and Rapunzel (Emily Gibson) had their time to shine.

Even the live music shone, probably more than a completely recorded soundtrack would have. With bass (Mike McGarry) and percussion (Mike Dettra) led by keyboard player and musical director, Susan den Outer, the excitement of live theater was heightened as the songs were accompanied the way they should be. The only musical gripe would have to be the number of slow songs in Act 2. With this whole evening nearing three hours from start to finish, the trio of melodic yet melancholy tunes before the finale were hard to take, especially since the blocking was very stationary.

The Baker’s Wife (Kristin Kauffman of Yardley) and Baker (Bill Weir of Doylestown) wish for a child in Newtown Arts Company’s production of INTO THE WOODS by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine

Nonetheless, many characters did have their share of upbeat, witty lines and song lyrics. All in all, the musical numbers were enjoyable, especially when the singers found the rhythm in the rhymes and used proper diction to break up the challenging, yet stimulating, fast-paced tempos.

With such a large cast, it’s amazing how no one overly upstaged anyone else. Each character had their time in the spotlight, and they all seemed to make the most of it. Some of the best examples of natural stage presence could be found in the performances of the Baker’s Wife (Kristin Kauffman), Jack (Justin Derry), and Little Red Riding Hood (Amelia Arrigo). Kauffman’s portrayal of a ballsy yet sweet wife made her easy to relate to on many levels. Her talent for acting, singing, and stage movement definitely added to her appeal. Derry not only spoke well, but he also skillfully told the story through his motions and facial expressions. Arrigo’s cheeky and witty Red made it a joy to watch her skip around on stage.

Other notable performances include Cinderella (Amanda Cutalo), whose voice was as sweet as the birds she communicated with. The Baker (Bill Weir) successfully portrayed the determined yet insecure husband on a life-altering quest. While the Wolf (George Fisher) was certainly creepy, he had a certain Adam Lambert-like quality that could win over an audience. Even the Witch (Danielle Ziemba), who had her own creepy qualities, showed the audience a different side when she started to sing without a cackle.

Some surprises came to light as we learned what charming princes are really like, all thanks to Cinderella’s Prince (Michael Bryant) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Joseph Cutalo), who both gave two entertaining renditions of Agony. I was also surprised to learn the Mysterious Man (Jeff Pilchman) wasn’t really Rumpelstiltskin. The fact no one tried to guess his name should have been a tip off, but Pilchman’s riddles and disappearing acts would have been another believable Brothers Grimm character. It wasn’t surprising that Red’s Granny/Giant (Jane Landes) gave a dramatic performance. After being eaten by a Wolf, robbed, and becoming a widow, she’d be a great addition to a fairy tale reality show.

Red Riding Hood, played by Amelia Arrigo of Yardley faces her fears in Newtown Arts Company’s production of INTO THE WOODS running through April 25.

Rounding out the cast, Cinderella’s Stepmother (Jennifer Kopcho) and stepsisters Florinda (Laura Young) and Lucinda (Kierceton Keller) played their roles as any evil step-family would. The Steward (Jim Palmer), Sleeping Beauty/Golden Harp (Julia McCusker) and Snow White (Allison Dekorte) also made appearances throughout the play to add to the wild mix of fairy tales. While the recognizable stories may not be exactly how I remember them, I would definitely venture INTO THE WOODS again.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Mary Liz Ivins
April 19-25, 2012
Newtown Arts Company
Newtown Theater
120 North State Street
Newtown, PA

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