Stray from the path to Columbia and get thankfully lost in Toby’s enchanting, enjoyable production of Into the Woods.
Unlike the recent movie version, which was dark and decidedly adult, Toby’s rendition, brightly co-directed by Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick, emphasizes the comedic and slightly ridiculous aspects of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical about what happens in a storybook kingdom after “happily ever after.”
Not to suggest that Toby’s production is watered down or edited for a G-rating. The grown-up consequences remain (and are actually part of the unexpurgated Grimm’s Fairy Tales), such as Rapunzel (Katherine Riddle) letting down a lot more than her hair, Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters Florinda (Katie Keyser) and Lucinda (MaryKate Broulliet) getting their eyes pecked out by angry birds at the wedding and Rapunzel’s Prince (Justin Calhoun) blinded for a time by the briars surrounding her tower.
That’s all still here, but in a refreshing take on Into the Woods that is fun and accessible for all ages, judging by the enraptured little girls at the birthday party at the next table.
Toby’s has been transformed into a dark wood, dripping with moss and snaky tree branches, a nicely spooky setting for a tale about the fallout from wishes coming true. A poor Baker (Jeffrey Shankle) and his Wife (Priscilla Cuellar) will do anything for a child, even submit to the bizarre conditions demanded from a vengeful Witch (Janine Sunday), who has secret motives as well.
The Baker and his Wife must procure a cow, Milky White (Alex Beveridge, delightfully agile and charming as the bovine) owned by Jack (Jimmy Mavrikes) of “The Beanstalk” fame; Little Red Riding Hood’s (Sophie Schulman) crimson cape, and Cinderella’s (Julia Lancione) golden slipper.
Their zealous pursuit of these items clash and tangle with the wishes of the other characters, who are also deep in the woods in pursuit of something or other. For instance, Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince (Jonathan Helwig), are there purely for the thrill of the chase, as seen in their gently sung tribute to narcissism, “Agony.”
Cinderella wishes to be rescued from drudgery, but finds herself ambivalent once her Prince is in hot pursuit—her conflicted feelings expressed with sparkle by Lancione, who deftly handles the intricate wordplay of “On the Steps of the Palace” and “A Very Nice Prince.”
INTO THE WOODS
July 9 – September 6
Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
5900 Symphony Woods Road
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $53 – $58 (includes dinner)
Tickets or call 1800-88-TOBYS
The simple-minded Jack wants friends, to be understood and appreciated for who he is and Mavrikes captures the poignant wistfulness of his yearnings in the song “Giants in the Sky.” A fellow young person, the sweet-toothed Red Riding Hood, is not so head-in-the-clouds. Her encounter with a predatory Wolf (Lawrence B. Munsey) turns her into a knife-wielding ninja who experiences the thrill of being scared and uses it to her advantage. Schulman’s pint-sized battleax is hilarious, belting out “I Know Things Now” and “Your Fault” with child-like boisterousness.
Central characters the Baker and his wife are masterfully played by Shankle and Cuellar, who imbue the songs “It Takes Two” and “Moments in the Woods” with emotional pow. Janine Sunday’s powerhouse voice gives command to the role of the Witch, who reveals her vulnerabilities and fear of being alone in “Stay with Me” and her ferocious side in the tumultuous “Last Midnight.”
The overall lightness of Toby’s staging brings out the whimsy and good humor of the musical, especially in the treatment of Sondheim’s witty rhymes and twisty cadences. You get the sophistication of Sondheim’s compositions and lyrics straightforwardly and without archness or cynicism.
Into the Woods . Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim . Book by James Lapine . Co-directed by Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick . Featuring Russell Sunday, Julia Lancione, Jimmy Mavrikes, Alex Beveridge, Jeffrey Shankle, Priscilla Cuellar, Heather Marie Beck, Katie Keyser, MaryKate Broulliet, Jane C. Boyle, Sophie Schulman, Janine Sunday, Lawrence B. Munsey, Meghan Stanton, Russell Sunday, Katherine Riddle, Justin Calhoun, Meghan Stanton, Jonathan Helwig and Scott Harrison.
Music Director/ Orchestrations: Ross Scott Rawlings . Production Manager: Vickie S. Johnson . Scenic Designer: David A. Hopkins . Light Designer: Lynn Joslin . Costume Designer: Eleanor Dicks . Sound Designer: Mark Smedley . Stage Managers: Cree Menefee, Kate Wackerle . Technical Director: Jimmy Englekemier . Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.