Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Minimal-set "Into the Woods" satisfies simply

Cast of Into the Woods (Dan Davidson)

Into the Woods
STAGEright Theatre
(at Richard Hugo House)
Through April 25, 2015

STAGEright scheduled their production of Into the Woods at an opportune time for a small theater that has difficult limitations on reaching potential audience members. Having a new movie just out might make it easier to get people interested in an original staging. And this staging, helmed by Matt Giles, is a stripped down, essentialized (is that a word?) production: magic is imaginary anyway, isn’t it?

So everything about suspending your disbelief is just stretched a bit farther than usual, but we know how to do that, don’t we? This production is worth your stretching yourself. There are several outstanding young performers in it, quite a few making their Seattle area debut! Mallory King is not new to Seattle, having performed at the 5th Avenue and Village Theatres, but she is entrancing as Cinderella, with a terrific soprano.

New to the area are an adorable Sophia Franzella as Red Riding Hood, whose command of the songs was a delight; Nathan Brockett, who has the chops to do both an over-the-top but sexy Prince and also a cranky step-sister; and Olivia Lee, playing a fairly nasty witch (though she could definitely be nastier) who easily turns beautiful at the doffing of a large cape.

Most of this 12-person cast are strong performers, which is not always the case for local musicals. This production satisfies!

A key amusement in the stage show is how Milky White the cow is created, since there is no real cow included in the show. Here, Milky White is a saw horse, in keeping with the “construction” aesthetic for the set design by Catherine Cornell. Ladders were used for trees making a small room swiftly change locations. (However, I still wish directors wouldn’t insist on moving a couple of set pieces as if that “means” a new location when the audience doesn’t care anyway – it’s just messy looking for no reason.)

Costumes by Chelsea Cook were simple, fun and appropriate, especially the half-gowns on hangers for the step-sisters who were double cast as the Princes (with Faith Howes taking on the roles of the other Prince and the other step-sister) in a fun double cast sex change for both step-sisters. It allowed the actors to make instantaneous changes from princes to step-sisters seamlessly.

The basic story is Sondheim’s take on five major fairytales (Cinderella, a baker and wife who want a child, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk) and the first act is kind of the regular tale. The second act (yes, there is a second act, some people left after the long first act thinking it was over!) is after the happily-ever-after when some things go terribly wrong. It’s a dark musical in many ways.

A key satisfaction in this staging is that the performers know the difference between comedy and mugging. No one mugs! Yay! Gorgeous! And the comedy is well-timed. But that allows the same characters to get dark very simply when the script turns dramatic.

As in the movie, one of the most fun songs is Agony, when the princes sing about not being able to have what they want. Speaking of music, the tiny band, led by Julia Thornton, did a very nice job with difficult music.

STAGEright has been staging musicals for a few years now and can be depended on for a high level of execution in an area difficult to pull off when you have limited budgets. This is one such example.

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