Pictured: Chelcie Abercrombie and Korrie Murphy. Photo by Tim Scott.
By Bec Pennington
The hospitality of the MTH Theater at Crown Center makes every visit charming and comfortable, from the appetizer and drink offerings in the lobby and the cheerful staff, to the theater itself with its cupholder seats (they encourage beverages inside) and even complimentary blankets, but it’s the shows themselves that will make the audience keep coming. That being the case, this company has nothing to fear. Once again, they deliver an utterly enjoyable evening of fun with their current production of INTO THE WOODS.
MTH’s deceptively simple concert method of production requires clever staging and perfect timing out of its performers. After having viewed other performances in the same style and wondering if it might not be as novel after a while, I am once again impressed with the freshness of the creativity. Sarah Crawford directs with a clear passion and delight for her craft. The tight cast of 16 players exploits the hilarious script to full extent and deftly maneuver their multiple parts each with high energy and effortlessly perfect vocals. Extremely simple costuming and props provide just the right amount of materials for polishing each player’s change from one character or scene to another while remaining elegantly easy on the eyes; a table is a tree, a stage ladder is a tower, a pianist (center stage the entire performance in a bold display of endurance) becomes the woods themselves. Other than some problems with the mics during opening night, the technical side is adequate, with lighting technique that explores the full depth of the thrust stage and uses the relatively small space to full advantage.
There is no small part nor lesser-skilled actor, but the standouts of the night are Val Fagan’s Witch Samantha Barboza’s Baker’s Wife, who are both delivered with depth. Korrie Murphy’s lilting Cinderella is simply delightful to listen to, and Kayla Wilkens manages to make Rapunzel’s gorgeous notes simultaneously hysterical. Andrew Schmidt and Zach Faust nearly steal the show, though, with their bizarrely close friendship as Jack and Milky White, the Cow.
It’s hard to believe INTO THE WOODS premiered on Broadway thirty years ago this month. Stephen Sondheim’s timeless compositions are both challenging for the performer and hummable for the listener; it’s certainly not lost any of its charm over time. The first act settles us in for an intertwining of familiar fairy tale characters, all for one reason or another venturing to the forest during the pursuit of their personal desires. We are delighted with a neat and lighthearted story, practically wrapped in a bow, about following your heart and dreams do come true.
Come Act Two, each begins to experience the consequences of the actions they took to make those dreams happen. The triumphs they lauded in themselves and each other may not exactly reflect as much on good character as they thought. While certainly other productions in more recent years have explored the “after” of happily ever, Sondheim’s take is still something to behold. It could be too preachy, but it’s not. It’s almost more of an entertaining statement of the obvious rather than a cautionary tale. Over again we see someone decide that now at last they understand, now they everything is clear, when in reality, we are always learning and certainty of our own wisdom is perhaps man’s greatest crime. Okay, maybe it’s a cautionary tale, but it will make you smile.
INTO THE WOODS runs through November 19th. For more information visit musicaltheaterheritage.com.