Review: Yes, it’s happily ever after, at least until reality bites.
That’s also when the Cottage Theatre’s production of Into the Woods shifts from a whimsical journey through the heroes of Grimm’s fairy tales to a dark and twisted story of hopes, dreams and, most importantly, wishes.
Cue the musical’s opening number with its hopeful, yearning refrain, “I wish….” Cue Cinderella (Jaclyn Beck). Cue the naïve lad Jack, his mother and their underproducing dairy cow, Milky-White (Audriahna Jones, Nancy West and Aislinn Mirsch). Cue the childless Baker and his practical spouse (Korey Weimer and Brittany Dreier).
Yes, the Brothers G’s gang — and then some — are all here: the Witch (Maya Burton); the Wolf (Laurel Merz); feisty little red riding hood (Maddie Paige); Cinderella’s drunk and disappointing father (Bil Morrill), grasping and hilarious stepmother played by (Daniel Borson) and competitive stepsisters, Florinda (Sophie Blades) and Lucinda (Adelaide Grass), as well as the ghost of her mother (Alycia Culnane); and Rapunzel (Katie Kincaid) with her long, long braid and goofball suitor. Will DeHaven and Sophie Mitchell portray the agonizingly amusing princes who court Rapunzel and Cinderella.
If you’re starting to wonder at the incessant name-checking of cast members, it’s because this ensemble shines en masse – like any good fairytale. The production’s heart is in its witty one-liners and its collaboration between performers.
Burton’s beautifully voiced Witch is too cruel to be kind – yet she has moments of motherly, albeit wrongheaded, feeling. “Stay With Me” begins with her demand for the kidnapped Rapunzel’s fealty, but the song softens, getting at the underlying tensions that course through the musical. The good will have their foibles, their doubts. The baddies will display glimmers of humanity. Desires take us toward what we want — or believe that we do.
As the many tongue-twisting tunes of Stephen Sondheim took their bow, the woods moved and shifted enchantingly across the stage, engineered by the Cottage Theatre’s craft veterans. It’s beckoning and foreboding are the work of Amanda Fergusen’s teasing of light and hues. That thicket comes courtesy of set designer Mark VanBeever.
Cinderella’s stepsisters and stepmother are beautifully clad and bewigged by a costume committee (Rhonda Turnquist, Lynne Schuepbach, Amber Hagen and Chris Carter) who is also responsible for the makeup that takes the Witch from evil crone to imposing knockout.
The show puts to the test fairytale promises of happily ever after. Some upstanding characters will perish, victims of unintended consequences. Others must rely on their newly fortified spirits or freshly formed alliances. These wrinkles of wish fulfillment were prefigured by Sondheim and Lapine from the get-go, or at least the show’s second number, “Cinderella at the Grave”: “Do you know what you wish? Are you certain what you wish is what you want?”
From the company’s opening to the earned tenderness of the final number, “No One Is Alone,” as well as the company’s final summation of the beautiful complexities of life beyond the fairytales, the lessons here feel pointed, necessary and timeless.
“Careful, children will listen,” indeed.
Ryleigh Norgrove is a reporter at The Chronicle.