Review by Danny Gaisin
Just a couple of weeks before ‘Mickey ‘D’ brings Cinderella, Snow White et.al. to Copps’ coliseum’s icy surface;McMaster’s Musical Theatre is staging the Lepine/Sondheim ludicrous hit “INTO THE WOODS” at the LYRIC on King Street. A prolific writer & director; James Lepine has collaborated with the composer on other on & off-Broadway productions that succeed because the two complement each other…Sondheim is strait-laced; Lepine is weird!
The plot deals with Cindy, Red-the hood, Rapunzel (of Oreal commercials); Jack; & the Bakers all of whom have secret wishes. The requisite witch will grant Mr. & Mrs. B a kid if they’ll obtain one specific item each from these [not those other]’fab four’. To accomplish this, the Bakers will have to hie themselves into the woods. Beans, slippers, a cow, a self-playing harp, and a ₤$ -dropping chicken are all intrinsic props.
McMaster’s director Andrea Pohlmann permits her actors to express many of their own personalities as part of their portrayals, but still stays within the envelope’s parameters. Thus, Act II is overly long and somewhat tedious given the philosophical nature that is so obviously Sondheim’s own prosaic contribution to the interwoven stories. Yet Pohlmann still manages to keep this a comedy rather than a didactic. The pace is hyperactive not only plot-progressing, but the cast are continually exceeding the speed limit. I empathetically felt exhausted just observing their hyperactivity. Even when the pace slackens, the cast never just moves; it flounces! The orchestral baker’s dozen were (for the most part) on-key and non-obtrusively overpowering. Musical director Eric Henenberg & his team successfully reduced the musical difficulties the lead singers & chorus face when performing such a loquacious score and diverse musical pieces. Said cast is a delight. Physically attractive in both stature and facial beauty, they seem to have embraced their character’s psyches as their own. The ladies ain’t too bad either. Not a one-bagger in the bunch.
Pohlmann seems to have instilled the concept that there are no small roles in theatre…every part makes a contribution. Thus, it challenges a critic to mention some standouts. The key role has to be that of the narrator and Chris Vergara gives full measure. Utilizing comedic pauses and asides, plus an expressively mobile face, his countenance most times define what he is portraying. As Red Riding Hood, Nicole Jedrzejko has the most amazing eyes that she uses to great effect. Whether she’s being fearful, hungry or curious, those orbs underline her emoting.
Mrs. Baker is Madeleine Mant who is a lookalike, especially in profile, of a young Julie Andrews. Both she & Jedrzejko, have clear and pleasant soprano voices that are enunciatory and projecting. The witch is Julia Theberge, and along with wolfman-Matthew Bergen are the bad guys of the piece. Both are delightfully scary and threatening. Even when Miss Theberge’s curse ends, she still emits a creepy vibe. Her 2nd act solo had quite an impact on the opening night audience. Jack Beanstalk is Thomas Ciolfi who imparts a rather bemused expression on his character. He and BFP (best friend-pet)make an interesting couple…Harrison Martin’s cow has a tasty sirloin-ish look, but those hooves need a little toenail polish as an additional giggle.
Into the woods is worth the trip; McMaster’s thespians give full measure and it shows. The play runs until March 3rd.