What happens after the ‘happily ever after’? Fairy tales end, reality hits, and sometimes what was wished for doesn’t quite turn out as expected. These are the questions Stephen Sondheim poses in his brilliantly rich, nuanced, dark musical Into the Woods. And Stone Soup Theatre Company’s production smartly focuses on the emotional resonance of the “after” to breathe some freshness into this Sondheim staple.
The outdoor setting for this production is the historic Forest Theatre in Chapel Hill, which offers a near-perfect backdrop for a crisp autumn night performance. Crickets accompany the live orchestra directed by Joanna Sisk-Purvis, and the dark sky amplifies the subtle, but colorful lighting designed by Cana Yao with Brett Stegall. The opening numbers are brisk and fun as characters are introduced and the plot that brings them all together unfolds. These actors maintain a loose rein on their roles, moving with high spirits but also avoiding too much caricature.
Rosie Rust is delightfully spunky as Little Red Riding Hood and renders a playful but wry version of I Know Things Now after her encounter with the wolf. Nora Burgard delivers a believably conflicted Cinderella while Jos Purvis (Baker) and Kelley Keats (Baker’s wife) are quite captivating as the couple who are willing to go to great lengths to have a child and learn a lot about their relationship and themselves in the process. Both actors elevated their characters from mundane to endearing. Their duet, It Takes Two, becomes a moving anthem to the rekindling of their love for one another.
Jack, sweetly embodied by Eli Brand, and his mother, Elizabeth Galbraith, complement each other well. Brand’s Giants in the Sky is filled with youthful, earnest wistfulness. The real scene stealer though is their cow, Milky White. Brady Bowman artfully maneuvers the cow’s white head while Leo Rainey works in tandem as the rump. These two young puppeteers provide a wordless animal (designed by Wednesday Purvis) with a great deal of personality.
Susan Shank’s Witch looks like something born from the leaves of the forest, prior to her transformation. She glides around the stage, pushing the action as well as delivering some of the best lines of the evening. Of course, the comical rendition of Agony by the two princes, Zachary Cook and Matt Verner, is always memorable.
Despite some sound issues that marred a few performances – crackle snaps and silent mics – this production engages and entertains throughout its almost three hours. Director Melissa S. Craib Dombrowski smartly pushed the tempo in the second act, deepening the tone overall when the ventures into the wood become much darker, as the real consequences of actions taken to obtain desires create turmoil.
The endurance of Into the Woods is a true testament to Sondheim’s legacy in American musical theater, and this production doesn’t disappoint. Moreover, as Stone Soup’s second production, it seals the company’s place as a creditable addition to the community theatre landscape.
Photo credit Pamir Kiciman.
Into the Woods runs through October 16. For more information visit https://www.stonesouptheatre.org/.
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