Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Into the Woods

John Ewing as the Narrator/Mysterious Man is tormented by the Witch (Eimi Taormina)
in DMTC’s Into the Woods from Nov 13 to Dec 6. Courtesy photo
What a wonderful gift the Davis Musical Theater Company has given to Davis with its outstanding production of “Into the Woods.”  Ten years ago, DMTC moved into its new theater (now called the Jean Henderson Performing Arts Center) and opened for business with a production of “Into the Woods.”  The progress the company has made over the past ten years shows clearly in this current production.

For those unfamiliar with the show, “Into the Woods,” by Stephen Sondheim with book by James Lapine, is Sondheim’s salute to familiar nursery tales, the first act being a lot of “happily after stories” of people like Cinderella, Jack in the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.  The second act is what happens after “happily ever after” and the consequences one pays for decisions made in life.  It is Sondheim’s opportunity to prove that he doesn’t always have to go into dark psychological places.

Director Steve Isaacson has assembled a top notch cast.  There isn’t a bad apple in the bunch.

The narrator (John Ewing, appearing later as the mystery man) explains that each of four characters have a wish.  Cinderella (Jori Gonzales) wishes to attend the King’s festival; Jack (Joshua Smith) wishes his beloved cow would give milk while his mother (Dannette Vassar) wants him to sell his pet.

The Baker (Tony Ruiz) and his wife (Ashley Holm), desperately want a baby, but are under a curse placed on the Baker’s father and his family years ago by the wicked witch next door (Eimi Taormina).   In order to break the spell, the Baker must gather four things – a cow as white as snow, a red cape, a golden shoe, and a lock of blonde hair.

How convenient, then, that their neighbors include Jack,  Little Red Riding Hood (Ernestine Balisi), Cinderella, and Rapunzel (Rachel Sherman-Shockley).

Each of these actors gives a memorable performance, Smith’s Jack a simple, devoted son who loves his pet cow, while Vasser just gets better and better as an actress.  Ruiz and Holm provide a solid anchor for the story, and Taormina gives a riveting performance. Her act two “Stay with Me,” a plea to her daughter, Rapunzel, is hauntingly beautiful. Gonzales displays her operatic training in a beautiful performance as Cinderella.

Balisi as Little Red Riding Hood is new to DMTC and what a find she is.  She sparkles and dominates every scene in which she appears. She is as matter of fact about swiping sweets from the Baker as she is about finding Granny (Nancy Streeter) in the belly of the wolf (F. James Raasch).

The two brother princes are particularly wonderful.  Rapunzel’s prince is played by Josh Endter and Cinderella’s prince by F. James Raasch.  They are dramatically over the top, self-centered and very funny in their “Agony” duet.  They swoop in and out perfectly.

There are not a lot of familiar tunes in this show, but it is filled with some beautiful moments, such as “No One is Alone,” sung by Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, the Baker and Jack when it seems that all is lost.  “Sometimes people leave you/ Halfway through the wood.” the characters sing, but the message that “no one is alone” gives hope.

Act 1 is upbeat and ends with happily ever after endings.  However, Act 2 is filled with betrayal, the death of beloved characters, sexual indiscretions, and the graphic sounds of the kinds of things that an angry giant on a rampage can do to puny human beings. The few survivors do, in fact, ultimately look like they will have a happily ever after but the whole act might be a bit too disturbing for younger children.

On the whole, DMTC has done a great job with this production and it is highly recommended.

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