Decidedly Entertaining Forestal Adventure
MTG’s ‘Into the Woods’ Abounds With Humor and Excellence
CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Sept. 5, 2008 theater review about the Musical Theatre Guild’s production of “Into the Woods” incorrectly spelled the last name of one of the actors. The actor who played Jack is named Timothy Wilfong, not Wilfgong.
Into the Woods
Book by James Lapine
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Based on Classic Fairy Tales
Directed by Matthew Stern ’08
September 4–6 at 8 p.m.
September 11–13 at 8 p.m.
While the age of fairy tales is all but a distant memory for most of us, the lure of the “happily ever-after” lands is all too strong to resist, irrespective of age. Add in some exquisitely crafted music and a few moralizing twists, and there is no wonder why Stephen Sondheim’s highly acclaimed musical “Into the Woods” never fails to deliver unforgettable experiences for audiences of all ages. After spending most of the summer working on this exciting yet challenging musical, MTG is ready bedazzle you with a journey “Into the Woods” that will surely meet all expectations.
“Into the Woods” is more than a collection of fairy tales. In fact, its plot will surely pique the interest of MIT folk, as it is essentially lifted off of a statistics problem set: how many fairy tales can you tell simultaneously using the minimum number of characters, so that each tale reaches its intended conclusion? The answer might vary, but the audience will surely recognize the well-known story lines of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, all cleverly intertwined in such a way that no story would work without the others. Yet, since fairly tales are mostly for kids, “Into the Woods” goes a step further, or as it is the case here, a whole act further to explore what happens beyond the “ever after.” As the plot permeates with realism, it becomes darker, starting to mirror ordinary life and hence adding significant depth to the overall tale.
Although the clever plot is enough of a selling point, the true magic of “Into the Woods” lies in its music. Sondheim lives up to his status as one of the “greatest artists in the American musical theatre” (NY Times) by penning an exquisitely intricate and charming score paired up with deliciously funny lyrics. Although challenging to perform, the music feels very accessible to the audience, in great part due to Sondheim’s masterful songwriting skills and a very subtle orchestration.
MTG’s production of “Into the Woods,” aptly directed by Matthew Stern ’08, was delectable from start to finish. The singing was very good, the acting even better, and the overall comic element spectacular. Since the musical involves so many hilarious punch lines, the audience had a hard time refraining from laughter, which in turn had a catalytic effect on the singers, allowing them to act and sing more freely, becoming, as the parts required, even funnier. Contributing a great deal to the success of the production was the smooth stage work. Using a combination of cleverly engineered rotating sets, and a judicious use of space, MTG was able to both convey the depth of the woods and keep up with the blazingly fast pace of the story in the space-stingy Little Kresge. More over, the well chosen props and costumes enhanced significantly the humor of the scenes.
The cast did a wonderful job bringing this production to life. Featuring great vocal talents and natural stage presence, the singers continuously engaged the audience both in the comedic moments and in the more soulful solo or duet arias. The main characters, the baker (J. Michael Spencer) and his wife (Kerry Brooke Steere) were delightful as a couple, and especially moving when singing their duet “It takes two,” where they vow not to give up on their hopes of breaking the spell that keeps them infertile. Steere also showed tremendous acting skills portraying the inner struggle of the baker’s wife, who still dreams of Prince Charming, even though she is married and wishing for a child.
One of the funniest characters in the show, the Little Red Riding Hood was admirably portrayed by Karen Hart ’11. Hart does such a tremendous job, both singing and acting that it almost feels this part was written for her. Her nemesis, the wolf, is memorably portrayed by Edmund W. Golaski ’99, who also doubles as Prince Charming. In both roles, Golaski showcases an excellent voice full of nuance, either as the wolf dreaming of a copious meal (“Hello, little girl”) or joining his brother Prince Charming (Luis Loya ’06) in a silly, yet engaging duet “Agony.”
Jack (Timothy Wilfgong) is another notable part that is very well acted. Wilfgong perfectly captures the tormented world view of the somewhat slow lad who suddenly runs into fortune, highlighting his unusual affection for his old cow in the hearfelt aria “I guess this is goodbye.” Nicole O’Keeffe ’09 shines as Jack’s mother, delivering the part with a lot of energy.
Cinderella and her family are also amazingly entertaining. Carrie Lee ’10 does admirably impersonating the cleaning girl, especially through her remarkable vocal talents. Cinderella’s sisters are outright hilarious in every one of their scenes, owing to the exuberant performances of Yunji Wu ’09 and Megan Rexius, always energetically guided (even literally) by their snobbish mother (Amelia Thomas).
In another story, we hear the ensnaring humming of Rapunzel (Lauren Bakis) locked in the doorless tower by her overprotecting mother and witch (Mia Shandell ’10). While Bakis’ voice is delightful, Shandell outdoes herself in some spectacular arias. Handling superbly what is likely the most challenging part in the musical, as a witch in her quest for youth and beauty, Shandell does it all and very well: she raps, she dances, she curses, she screams and even soulfully laments her condition while trying to keep her daughter with her (“Stay with me”).
Finally, the show would not be complete without a story teller. Dave Berger takes on the part with great aplomb, while also doubling as the mysterious man — a character in charge of making sure the fairy tales follow their proper course. Berger is incredibly hilarious in his later role, while also displaying a natural ability to switch between the roles with great ease.
Overall, MTG tackled brilliantly Sondheim’s challenging masterpiece, delivering a very engaging, witty performance. “Into the Woods” is more than a story, it’s an adventure that will make you laugh very hard and then it’ll make you think. Go and watch it.