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Into the Woods a spectacle in all elements of production

The first thing the audience saw when they walked into the auditorium was a forest: a big, sprawling forest with trees that went up the sides of the stage, movable set pieces, a ramp that served as a small hill and a tower embedded into the side of the stage. It was, in a word, spectacular.

But the set was not the only spectacular part of Eastern’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The cast was also very, very good.

Into the Woods takes and interweaves four classic fairy tales-Cinderella (Adelle Swartz), Rapunzel (Emily Cusinamo), Jack and the Beanstalk (Jared Grazulis), and Little Red Riding Hood (Janelle Boyd). The overarching plot involves a Baker (Rob Miller) and his Wife (Ashleigh Henderson), who are trying to undo a spell put on them by the Witch (Jackie Nicklas).

During the first act, parts of the original fairy tales occur. Cinderella goes to the festival and is chased for most of the act by a Prince (Josh Landis). Rapunzel is discovered by Cinderella’s Prince’s brother (Elliot Simko). Jack sells his cow (Rob Dagen) for beans and kills a giant. Little Red strays off the path, and she and her grandmother (Elizabeth Loughridge) are eaten by a Wolf (Josh Landis). Each of the fairytale characters meet the Baker and his Wife. The main fairytale characters have what the Baker and his Wife need to convince the Witch to lift the spell.

The first act is the “happily ever after” act. The cast made it fun and exciting to see how each character would end up in the end. They threw themselves into their parts and played them with such truth and passion that the audience could not help but be drawn in. Dagen, as the cow, especially drew laughs as he scurried on hands and knees across the stage. Miller and Henderson, in their search to end the spell so that they could have a baby, worked well as husband and wife. And Nicklas was phenomenal in her role as the wicked but complicated Witch.

The second act is much darker than the first as it tries to subvert the stereotypical “happily ever after” fairy tale. In this act, the giant’s widow (Elizabeth Loughridge’s voice) comes to take revenge on the kingdom-and especially on Jack, who killed her husband.

Things go crazy in this act. Cinderella’s Prince seduces the Baker’s Wife. The Witch commits suicide. Other people are killed in this act, including Jack’s mother (Jenn Dries), Rapunzel, the Baker’s Wife and the Narrator (Kelly Hughes), who had held the story together. After the Narrator dies, the characters must figure out how the story ends.

While the second act ends happily, the characters realize that “happily ever after” is not all that it seems to mean.

The cast worked together incredibly well, seamlessly incorporating very difficult songs and dances into the plot. As their characters collided and intersected with each other throughout the musical, it seemed as if they were meeting each other for the first time; at the same time, it seemed as if they were a family or even an amoeba, flowing together as one organism.

At the end, it was sad to leave the play. One would have liked to stay for a long time. But, as Cinderella’s Prince sings, it was just a moment in the woods, and as the Baker’s Wife realizes, the woods can sure be dangerous.

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