Toreador Theatre Review: Into the Woods

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the Toreador Theatre present Into the Woods. Overall, they did a fairly decent job. It was really clear that the cast put in a lot of practice time and were dedicated to the common phrase: “The show must go on.”

Starting with first impressions, the Narrator (played by Lacoda Collier) was wonderful on stage. The role seemed to be made for him, and I can see that he really had fun with it. He also had opportunities throughout where he entered as the narrator with a few costume changes to match the Disney tales that are not represented in Into the Woods (Such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid.) Additionally, the sets were very close to the original. From row three, they looked very stable and had been taken very seriously. The attention to detail was impeccable. The first song was when Cinderalla (Played by Regan Peter) started “Into the Woods.” Right away, I found myself wanting for more from her character. It sounded like her only goal was to hit the notes, however, she did redeem herself with both her acting and strong pitch accuracy. The real surprise was when the Witch (Akela Salter) pestered the Baker (Devon Cunningham) and his Wife (Carlee Carpenter) about “nothing cooking in that belly” and set the musical into motion. I found myself enjoying this first impression.

Knowing about the ungodly length of Act One, I settled in and allowed myself to enjoy the production. A huge Bravo to Akela Salter and her Witch. I truly admired how she worked as the character, and what she did to make it her own. Not only can you tell that she worked hard by how confident she was in the role, you could also tell with her voice. It sounded much more mature and in-character than you would think a Junior would  achieve and I think she is going to go far with her hard work in theatre. Focusing on the music, I could not tell that there was a pit orchestra until about half way through “Hello, Little Girl.” Something that we so often skip in high school pit orchestras is the use of string instruments, whether that is the lack of someone who plays them well or at all. The pit used a nice combination of string and wind instruments to create a phenomenal orchestra. So why I was blinded to the use of the orchestra? I couldn’t see it. The orchestra was placed behind the actors, and with no conductor in front of the actors, I found myself impressed with the togetherness of both the music and the singers. Another incredible thing was the beautiful balance. Never could I only hear the pit over an actor or vice versa. I was blown away. This really felt like more than a high school musical (no pun intended.) I don’t quite know if i was expecting this show to be a mediocre production or not, but nonetheless, Boone theatre really impressed me. The acting from both the Baker and his Wife made me believe there was real tension between the two, and that is usually hard to achieve on stage. I think that this happened because the casting was perfect (in which I believe that Devon was made for the bakers hat as it suited both his acting and voice perfectly) or simply there was a lot of time worked into the scenes between Devon and Carlee. Whatever it was, I truly appreciated it. With act one finally coming to and end (as Sondheim realized that maaaybe he wrote a little too much) I was thoroughly excited for Act Two.

As the stage lights came up I was ready to once again hear the utter talent from Boone’s students. With the prior knowledge of everything being happily ever after…but not really, I was ready to watch every last second of this production. A grievance I do have is that the sound effects in act two were entirely too much. They were both Earth and ear shattering as I watched and followed many spectators in covering their ears. Reading the bill now, I see that they have just remodeled their light and sound system, but that doesn’t quite take the blame for the effects being entirely too loud as they should have worked with the effects before they opened doors. “Agony (reprise)” captivated me once more with both Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s princes (played by Ashton Thilges and Jason Prazak) flaunting their sorrows with being happy, but not entirely satisfied with their wives, and yet seeking the slumbering new wives. The competitiveness of both Jason and Ashton really compelled me to want to hear their voices more. Something that urcked me was how “Last Midnight” was performed; Personally, I enjoy a bright, nasally sounding witch as it tyes the whole character up with a beautiful little bow, Salter took the witch down a more Meryl Streep route, which left a bitter taste in my mouth, not to diss Mrs. Streep, its just my personal choice of witch. “No More” was just as depressing as it will ever be, Cunningham should really get on stage more, as his acting far surpassed my expectations, and the show ended as it always does, with “Children Will Listen” and with tears in my eyes. For being my 3rd time seeing this show, both live and on screen, and knowing what I was going to get into, I would give this show Four out of Five stars. For troupes who are interested in performing Into the Woods, I would recommended asking Boone how they did it.