BWW Reviews: Summer Stock Austin Presents Charming INTO THE WOODS
by Frank Benge
Summer Stock Austin has been a part of the Austin theatre scene since 2005. Annually, college and high school students from across Texas meet to mount several productions with professionals from Austin and around the country in a one-of-a-kind experience. They work as a traditional "stock" company; each member performs, designs, builds, and assists on the various aspects of theatrical productions. Similar programs charge high school students tuition, but Summer Stock Austin not only offers the experience to all participants free of charge, many of the college students work as mentors throughout the process. Led by a host of professionals with experience ranging from Austin to Broadway, students begin making invaluable connections as they embark on their professional careers and gain firsthand knowledge of working in a professional setting.
Summer Stock Austin is a joint program of the Long Center for the Performing Arts, in conjunction with Austin Playhouse and Zilker Theatre Productions.
INTO THE WOODS is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. Intertwining the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it explores the consequences of wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from the fairytales of "Little Red Riding Hood", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Rapunzel", and "Cinderella" and 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.
Arguably Sondheim's most popular work, it is highly complex and challenging even for an adult cast. The Summer Stock Austin production, now playing in reparatory at The Long Center, is a charmer.
Ginger Morris has done a great job staging this show and has added some very nice touches to the show along with some sharply executed and complex choreography. I especially liked her use of puppetry and the foliage covered crew who became part of the woods as they changed the scenes. Scenic Designer Theada Bellenger's clever set features carts that are moved to become multiple locales and trees that shake with the approach of the giant. Teresa Carson's costuming is colorful and charming and Kathryn Eader's lighting is excellent, even to the point of supporting the action of the script.
This is a uniformly strong cast of emerging talent who tackle the complex music quite well. There are some standouts in the cast whose work is worthy of any show in Austin. Stephanie Toups as Cinderella, Mariel Ardila as Jack's Mother, Donelvan Thigpen as The Baker, and Korina Lurie as The Baker's Wife all handle the material with a clear understanding of their characters. Matthew Moore as Jack and Hannah Roberts as Little Red Riding Hood are terrific and give as good a performance as any I've seen of the show. Connor Barr and Gray Randolph as the princes are excellent both vocally and with character and movement. And, as Cinderella's Stepmother and Sisters, Sarah Yoakley, Victoria Brown and Kalie Naftzger are riotous funny.
If you're a fan of INTO THE WOODS you won't be disappointed in this offering by some fresh, new and still developing talent.