A baker and his wife embark on a quest to reverse a curse that prevents them having children. Their path brings them into contact with some of the most famous fairy tales of all time and they learn to be careful what they wish for. This is Into the Woods and it is currently playing at the Chanticleer Theatre.
Prior to last night I had never seen this show though I had heard of it. Given its subject matter, I was expecting something geared more towards kids. Instead, I got a well thought out tale suitable for kids and adults that teaches a powerful moral about the consequences of selfishness.
James Lapine really understood fairy tales. Not only are the tales featured the original Brothers Grimm versions, but he blends them together with an original fairy tale of his own creation which follows the Grimm pattern. In fact, the show can really be split into two parts with Act I being the fairy tales and Act II could be called “After the Happily Ever After” as it deals strictly with the fallout from the tales. Add this to Stephen Sondheim’s score and you have the foundation for a spritely theatre outing.
Mackenzie Zielke really does a phenomenal job directing this piece. Her sense of pacing is off the charts as this production just whizzes by and the cue pickups were razor sharp and tight. I loved the staging as the show starts before it starts with the characters coming out on stage early to start living their fairy tale lives. She led her actors to A list performances and there isn’t a squeaky wheel in the lot.
This is an extraordinarily well-balanced ensemble and each get their moment to shine. Some of the night’s stellar performances come from Robyn Helwig who brings the mirth with her puppetry of the cow, Milky White. Jay Srygley is a smooth-talking, predatory wolf looking for a meal or two. Lily Sanow’s Little Red Riding Hood is a bit of a brat with a gluttonous sweet tooth. Nicolette NuVogue’s larger than life presence is well suited for the Giant’s Wife. Jerry Van Horn holds the multiple tales together as the Narrator.
Chanel Savage owned the night as The Witch. Savage has an incredible presence that rivets one’s attention and she gives a deep and nuanced performance. Her Witch isn’t evil, per se, just selfish and petty. But she’s also incredibly lonely, hence her desire for a child. She also seems extremely protective of innocence which is what motivates her to keep Rapunzel in a tower. She knows growing up means a loss of that innocence and truly wants to keep that treasure intact and unsullied. Savage also has a powerful singing voice as she brought down the house in “Our Little World” and “Children Will Listen”.
David James Zenchuk, Jr. and Megan Berger portray the Baker and the Baker’s wife. These characters are originals and are the unintentional antagonists, at least to start, as their blind pursuit of a child enables the chaos that results.
Zenchuk makes for a fine everyman as the Baker. Zenchuk’s Baker truly has a good heart which makes his quest for a child difficult as he is unable to steal and lie to obtain the items he needs. Rather he relies on dumb luck, half-truths, innuendo, his far craftier wife, and, in one case, the out and out stupidity of another character to get what he needs. But when push comes to shove, his true nobility does finally shine forth. Zenchuk has a beautiful tenor with turns in “No More” and “No One is Alone” being particular highlights.
Megan Berger gets to run an acting gamut as the Baker’s Wife. Berger merges comedy and drama into her take on the role. The Baker’s Wife is fiercely loyal to her husband as she is resolved to help him in the quest whether he wants it or not. But she is more than a little selfish as she can and does lie, steal, and finagle the items needed to overcome the curse. Berger’s Baker’s Wife also seems to pine for a different kind of life with her fascination of the royal life and her succumbing to the wooing of Prince Charming. Berger also has a lovely voice with dynamite turns in “It Takes Two” and “Any Moment”.
David Michael Galant’s musical direction is nimble and precise. Not only do he and his orchestra adeptly perform the score, but they also make the notes characters in the show at certain moments. Galant’s coaching of the singers is sublime with some achingly beautiful solos and harmonies. Ibsen Costume Gallery supplies the costumes which makes the characters seem as if they stepped out of a fairy tale. Most impressive is a golden gown worn by The Witch after regaining her youth. Joey Lorincz has designed yet another award worthy set with long narrow tubing emulating the trees of the forest. I loved Leviathan Noxvul’s ambient forest sounds with singing birds, crickets, and other denizens of the woods. Jacy Rook’s lights add a nice bit of seasoning, especially the color changing backdrop which conjured images of sunrises and sunsets. Jason DeLong’s choreography is simple, but effective. There aren’t any huge, lavish numbers. The dancing is subtle and gentle which is exactly what is required.
Into the Woods is a pleasant storytelling venture suitable for the entire family. If you want to see fairy tales wrapped within a fairy tale, take advantage of the last two performances at Chanticleer for an easygoing bit of theatre.
Into the Woods run at Chanticleer Theatre through Mar 19. Final performances are Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets cost $30 and can be purchased at www.paceartsiowa.org. Chanticleer Theatre is located in the Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center at 1001 S 6th St in Council Bluffs, IA.