Theater Review: Into the Woods

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Studio Tenn presents:
Into the Woods (Oct. 17 – Nov. 3; Ages 9 and older)

The Franklin Theatre
419 Main St., Franklin
538-2076 • studiotenn.com
Show times: Thu – Fri 7 p.m., Sat 2 and 7 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $47.50 – $67.50

Studio Tenn has done it again. It continues to raise the bar on high-quality professional theater in Middle Tennessee with its current run of Into the Woods. This Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim with book by James Lapine made its Broadway debut in 1987, and if you’re familiar enough with Sondheim, you know some of his work can be a bit complicated to pull off given all the layers involved. Into the Woods is no exception, yet Studio Tenn delivers a pristine and powerful production.

The crux of the show itself is immensely interesting in that it pulls together popular fairytale characters and makes them cross paths in the woods based on selfish desires. At the root, it’s ultimately about the consequences of what one wishes for to the point of the “careful-what-you-wish-for” aspect along with the reality of the effect it has on the children in your life and how you treat them. Into the Woods is a show that has many, many interwoven layers throughout, and Studio Tenn perfectly brings them to life.

I can’t imagine a more stellar cast in this production. First of all, 9-year-old Gus O’Brien playing the narrator. He’s an excitable bundle of pure energy on stage, and I love that Artistic Director Matt Logan made the decision to cast a youngster in this role. It’s a lot of fun to experience O’Brien’s zest for the stage!

Local stage legend Nan Gurley delivers a wickedly divine portrayal as the Witch. It’s so much fun to witness her in this role. She is masterful and precise from her succinct characteristic mannerisms to her blow-you-away singing chops. She serves up an unstoppable performance.

Likewise, so does another hometown favorite, Patrick Waller. He’s great as the Big Bad Wolf, but he truly shines in his dual role as Cinderella’s Prince. Never before has his vocal talent been so brightly shining, and his on-the-mark-perfect-timing delivery of his comical lines is so clearly evident in his offering of the funniest line in the show: “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

Marissa Rosen is so delightful as Little Red Ridinghood. Small in stature, she is perfectly cast and brings much charm to her role along with a bit of appropriate sass. She owns her role with aplomb.

One of the things I love a lot about the production is the importance of the supporting cast in propelling the story arc and how it supplies humorous elements. Matthew Carlton gives a great delivery as Jack’s frumpy mother who’s ticked off at him. However, when it comes to a truly funny moment on stage, Susan Swindell gets big props in her role as Cinderella’s Stepmother. Her character’s quest is to marry off her daughters to the point that she’s so intent about it that she takes a saw to their feet hoping to cut them down to fit into the special slippers. It’s one of the show’s funniest moments.

Logan’s intricate set design is greatly enhanced by Stephen Moss’ superb lighting, and Logan’s costume design, as usual, is impeccable.

Although older kids in the teen years will understand the many faceted layers and themes of this show, a younger audience will enjoy it as well. Live music, a vibrant set and an unforgettable cast on stage … It’s a GREAT experience!

 

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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