There have been abundant opportunities to catch Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim recently — at the Kennedy Center last year, in local theaters, even in teen versions and with puppets. No matter how many times one has seen the show, it still packs a punch because of the interweaving and twisty storylines and unforgettable melodies and lyrics. To this mix-mash of familiar characters from numerous fairy tales with their longings, dreams, and discoveries, the Rockville Musical Theatre adds its own sparkle and charm
The magical journey starts with a Baker and his Wife, who will do anything in their power to have a child. Then there’s Little Red Riding Hood, who has unexpected encounters with the Wolf. Jack is diverted from selling Milky White, his beloved cow, and ends up with beans. Add in Rapunzel and Cinderella and their respective princes, each pursuing their wishes and dreams, along with the obligatory Witch, and the fairy tale dreams take you on a roller coaster joyride of twisted memories.
Of the many wonders in this production, let’s start with the enormous cast. While theaters are still lurching out of pandemic days, watching a show of almost 30 cast members bouncing across the stage was an unexpected thrill, enhanced with terrific choreography by Isabelle Olivos-Glander. Director Erin Bone Steele keeps everyone moving at a fun-filled pace with dynamic energy from the characters. Each one is fully expressed and on a mission in telling their particular story.
Standout performances start with Robert Howard’s wholesome role as Narrator, who engages in all the moments as he ushers us into the various scenes. Cynthia Momanyi’s Riding Hood has a piercing, clarion-call voice that cuts through the forest haze as she matures from a frolicking skip-along cutie to nearly consumed as wolf meat. Cam Powell’s Wolf and Joshua Bush as side-kick slink their way through the brambles with ease and lick their chops over the piggies in their view. Isabelle Noel is an adorably trusting Jack who becomes more daring along the way. Both Noah Beye and Jarod Glou as the two Princes romp along with athleticism, grace, and hilarity — Glou even does a fierce box jump in the routine. Ryan Karg and Ruperta Nelson as the Baker and his Wife deliver gorgeous duets, and Nelson’s expressions of yearning, fears, and desires are heartrending.
At first, it’s hard to resist conjuring up Bernadette Peters as the Witch, but a few moments with Amanda Jones swaggering in the role and you start to wonder, Bernadette who? Jones has the moxie, the attitude, and the chops to claim the role as her own. Her “Last Midnight” is ferocious. Children and everybody else better listen. And then there’s Hannah Friedman puppeteering Milky White, incredibly designed by Leigh Rawls.
Sondheim’s work is notorious for its complex tonality and punching rhythms, and everything is handled with ease by musical director Steve McBride, who also conducts the intricate score, and rehearsal musical director Chase Frankel. “Your Fault,” one of the most complicated ensemble pieces in musical theater with no less than five company members singing in a cacophony jumble, could be a test case for musical athleticism. This group handled it flawlessly. The robust orchestra of piano, clarinet, trumpet, and percussion also includes a violin, viola, bassoon, clarinet, and flute with charming results. While the musicality works nicely, the volume has a tendency to overshadow the lyrics for some of the singers — hopefully, a little tweaking throughout the run will balance the blend. Sondheim’s lyrics are rat-ta-tat fast and not to be missed.
The lighting design by Kali Munro and Michael Page was an absolute work of art with menacing reds and spotlights blending into shades of blue and green on the rolling stand-up sets depicting forest trees. Designed by Douglas Becker, the sets also served for characters to tuck behind and roll out for innovative entrances and exits — more keen direction by Steele.
Sound designer Jeff Goldgeier captured the booming rumble of the giantess stomping through the village and roaring her displeasure. Costume design by Linda Swann steals the show with glitter and glam for the funny stepsisters and stepmom played by Katherine Boyce, and of course the princess gowns for beautifully voiced Cinderella, Lizzie Bartlett Holman, and Leela Dawson as Rapunzel with exquisite soaring tones. The Princes sport vintage attire and fabulous hunting boots. In the final musical number, the men couple with different fairy tale wives who are perfectly attired too, for a dashing touch.
Into the Woods has been captivating audiences all over the world since 1986 and feels as fresh and relevant today. Innovative structure keeps you wondering trying to figure out what will happen with characters that you’ve known from early childhood bedtime stories. The first act ends with everyone supposedly achieving their dreams, but the menacing second act shows there are no happily-ever-after endings. There’s a lot there, on all kinds of levels. In tackling this musically complex, multilayered show so successfully, Rockville Musical Theatre has proven once again that it’s a premiere entertainment spot and worth a trip to catch a fun show.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Into the Woods plays through July 16, 2023, presented by Rockville Musical Theatre performing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville, MD. Tickets ($26 for adults, $23 for seniors and students) are available online or by calling the box office at 240-314-8690.
The digital program for Into the Woods is online here.
Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Cast: Diana Alonso, Noah Beye Sebastian Bilinski, Katherine Boyce, Joshua Bush, David Chase, Leela Dawson, Leigh Wirth Dencker, Ray Essick, Hannah Friedman, Jennifer Georgia, Jenny Gleason, Jarod Glou, Erica Harrison, Lizzie Bartlett Holman, Robert Howard, Amanda Jones, Jasmine Jones, Ryan Karg, Nealah Rose Malmstrom, Cynthia Momanyi, Ruperta Nelson, Isabelle Noel, Cam Powell, Jillian Rubino, Jack Schillaci, Katie Stauderman, David Stensenrud
Director: Erin Bone Steele
Choreographer: Isabelle Olivos-Glander
Stage Manager: Denise Gilmore
Set Design: Douglas Becker
Lighting Design: Kali Munro and Michael Page
Sound Design: Jeff Goldgeier
Costumes: Linda Swann
Props: Sandhya Kidd
Producer: Jackie Williams
Performance Musical Director/Conductor: Steve McBride
Rehearsal Music Director: Chase Frankel
Orchestra: Piano, Lisa Learman; Violin, Audrey Chang; Viola, Andrew Nixon; Clarinet, Rose Weich; Trumpet, Paul Weiss; Bass, Jeffrey Aaron; Bassoon, Louis Reichwein; Flute, Cynthia Rugolo; Percussion, George Huttlin; Horn, Matt Eisenberg; Synthesizer, Joe Faber and Stuart Weich.
COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged but optional and by choice.