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‘Into the Woods’ impresses on stage

| Wednesday, November 5, 2014

web_into the woods-11-06-2014SAM COUGHLIN
Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” makes a name for itself in the musical theatre world as a notoriously difficult production to perfect. Its score and accompanying singing parts are difficult, special effects play a key role in the plot and the ending is not exactly what you’d call a “happily ever after.”

The Pasquerilla East Musical Company managed to pull it off during its dress rehearsal Wednesday.

The musical opens as the Narrator (played by Anthony Murphy) introduces us to the generous assortment of classic fairy tale characters who make their way “Into the Woods,” intertwining in each others’ fictional lives and learning that there’s far more to their tales than we all once thought.

It’s here, with a talented cast, where I think the PEMCo production excels the most. Across the board, the young individuals executed their demanding singing parts brilliantly and their above-average actin chops made the trek through the mysterious woods of this magical world feel a little more like reality.

As for standouts, Chris Siemann, who doubles as the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince, gives an amazing performance in both of his extremely different roles. He is deliciously disturbing as the gluttonous canine — his rendition of “Hello, Little Girl” is a highlight of the show — and he finishes the performance humorously masculine as a royal who decides the best way to get a girl to marry you is to trap her in “pitch.”

The Witch, the undeniable star of “Into the Woods,” is brought to life by Elizabeth Curtin, who brings plenty of star power of her own. She is flawless, fake pointy nose and all. As I watched her belt the final notes of “Stay With Me”, I occasionally forgot that Bernadette Peters was actually not in this performance. Curtin is the whole package, nailing the acting, singing and development of the famous character throughout both acts. If anything, the show is worth the ticket if only to be able to tell your friends one day that you saw Elizabeth Curtin perform before she made it big.

Alongside the performances, the other aspects of the show succeed with very few stumbles along the way. The costumes are more modern and simplistic than one would usually expect from a fairy tale musical, a decision that works well with this production and lends itself to the aesthetic. Jack’s cow, from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Milky White, is embodied by an almost gruesome looking skeleton puppet. The design succeeds in telling the audience that Milky White is not the most productive cow but makes it harder for us to understand why Jack would really want to be friends with a carcass. However, the puppetry was well done and does not seem out of place amongst the other costumes and set pieces.

The set is another modern take on the “woods,” which would traditionally provide the backdrop for the production. While I admired the idea, the two huge standing structures behind the cast made for a crowded stage. “Into the Woods” famously hops from one story line to another, requiring a lot of people to be on stage at one time. That coupled with the fact that half of the stage is eaten up by huge, seemingly impractical “trees,” makes for a cramped scene which is atypical considering we’re supposed to be in the woods.

PEMCo.’s attempt at perfecting “Into the Woods” is successful mostly thanks to the superb cast. Beautifully scored with a surprising storyline, it’s a delightful musical that will have you rethinking your favorite fairy tales and the old adage – “be careful what you wish for.”

“Into the Woods” premieres November 6th at 7:30 p.m. in Washington Hall, with performances also running November 7th at 7:30 p.m. and November 8th at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for non-students.

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About Alexandra Lowery

I am sophomore in the Mendoza College of Business and the department of Film, Television and Theatre. I enjoy long, drawn out feminist rants, playing guitar and worshipping Beyoncé.

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