For the first time in our reviewing career, Keith and I: (1) witnessed our first standing ovation and (2) Keith was the first one on his feet. For the record, Keith had put off Sondheim for most of his life. He’s more of a “traditionalist” when it comes to musical theater. When INTO THE WOODS came out on the big screen, I felt compelled to see it, and I talked Keith into taking me. After thoroughly enjoying the movie, we jumped at the opportunity to review the Pennington Players’ version and the Players certainly exceeded our expectations.
The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Rapunzel”, and “Cinderella”, as well as several others. The musical is tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, their interaction with a witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey.
One of Sondheim’s most popular works, INTO THE WOODS is a musically sophisticated show with the opportunity to feature actors adept at dark comedy. And what a magical job they all did.
The show was virtually flawless from beginning to end. Director / Choreographer Kyrus Keenan Westcott has a winner here, and the cast choices are over the top. We were well pleased with the entire show, and the following are a few Honorable Mentions.
The Princes, played by Ben Menahem and Kevin Palardy, were an excellent comedy duo. Both were hysterical, especially during their two feature duets “Agony.” One can almost see the “teeth gleam” from Prince Charming Menahem’s debonair stance.
The Baker’s Wife (Kara Wilson), Cinderella, (Christina Kosyla), and Little Red Riding Hood (Natalie Romeo) carried their roles magnificently. Add Jack (Karl Weigand) and the Baker (John Zimmerman) and “No One is Alone” drew me to tears. Misha Barker did a fine job as Rapunzel.
The Witch, played by Jenna O’Neill, had an excellent sound that diminished for a bit when her mask was removed, then re-gained. We detected she felt a tad shy at first then comfortable again after a few moments. Nevertheless, she is truly gifted, and the transition didn’t take away from the show, but we felt it important to mention. No need to “hide behind a mask.”
The acting was superb, the voices were exceptional, the orchestra (Music Director Mike Gilch) was world-class, and the set (Bryan Schendlinger) and costumes (Rusty Miller) were second to none. I can’t say enough about the lighting effects (Vicki Kaiser & Kitty Getlik), especially when the scene went from a forest green to a snow-dusted sparkly blue.
This musical will have you mesmerized in your seat and leaving the theater pondering for days about the many messages it carries. Now remember, “no one is alone.”
INTO THE WOODS
Book by James Lapine Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed and Choreographed by Kyrus Kennan Westcott
January 23 – February 1, 2015
The Pennington Players
at Kelsey Theater at Mercer
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windsor, NJ 08550