Sunday, June 26, 2011

Theatre review: "Into the Woods" from Carnivale Theatrics-Sunday, 26th June 2011

There’s a new, wonderful sounding, great-looking production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods briefly offered by the still- new local theatre company Carnivale Theatrics which, in 2009, started producing one show per year. This proves that young founders Justin Fortunato and Robert Neumeyer know how to do what they’re doing. They’ve assembled a cast of superb singers, most of whom are still students at Point Park U. That connection, by the way, assures much singing talent; Point Park Conservatory musicals always sound first class. In addition, a 13 piece orchestra led by Neumeyer plays expertly. Plus there’s a great set by inevitably inventive Tony Ferrieri and Rich Preffer created fine costumes.

But don’t forget the choice of material. Into the Woods clearly remains a marvelous show with Stephen Sondheim’s gorgeous,bright,imaginative music coupled with his consistently significant and clever lyrics. All of that thrives appealingly and charmingly.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, James Lapine created a script about story-book legends combining many of them in one place. A community. Pointedly. Familiar tales come into play. They include those about Cinderella, Jack of Beanstalk fame, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel. There’s also witch and a giant as well as the more generic Baker and his Wife. All of them connect. Lapine and Sondheim also infer well-known psychological interpretations of symbolisms during a mostly amusing, somewhat satirical first act. In the second act, Lapine and Sondheim get into the darker parts of the woods and developments, offering further, more deliberately substantial insights. Together what they created ,and how well they’ve done it, has its own rewards and, of course, as in many fairy tales, offers morals to ponder.

I was particularly impressed by Jaclyn McSpadden’s sweet, innocent version of Cinderella, often played as more goofy than this, but working equally well. And, as the story progresses, Andrea Weinzierl’s performance as the Baker’s Wife keeps on, amusingly, getting better and better. Playing the Witch, Caroline Nicolian comes across with appealing elegance after being transformed out of her rags, grungy hair and crooked nose. Each of them and many other people in the cast do extremely well getting the most out of the lyrics. Credit director Fortunato for making sure that that happens

On opening night a few members of the cast went a little overboard trying to be funny or dramatic. And, unfortunately, some dialogue thudded to halts when the performers didn’t pick up their cues, leaving clumps of silence between lines where vigorous pace is needed. Director Fortunato needs to work on that. He did come up with a few clever physical bits; but some others clunked like rusty armor.

So, despite this being a production by a fledgling company featuring performers still studying and learning their craft, this keeps the justly famed musical’s best qualities alive happily ever after.

Carnivale Theatrics production of Into the Woods continues through July 3rd at New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, North Side. 412/320 4810

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