Steven Sondheim’s bumptious Into the Woods got a solid treatment last week in Junction City’s attractive Hoover Opera House. The production, presented by J.C.’s venerable and accomplished Little Theater company, made use of area talent to give the late 1980s show a creditable and accessible performance.
Director Jennifer Brown, a Junction librarian, and Musical Director Amy Rosine, a K-State music professor, were joined on the technical side of things by Peggy Riley, who seemed to have a little more money to use per costume than she usually does when dressing Manhattan High’s big shows. Despite a few pops and a little misdirection, Linda Teeter’s sound and Kaye Fisher’s lighting were also assets here.
Prof. Rosine conducted a fifteen-piece pit orchestra that knew the score and had an attractive sound but didn’t mask any of the on-stage performers’ lines. The plink plink plinking piano, one of the first act’s immediately recognizable characteristics, was played by Michael Brown.
The cast included Glenn Davis as the Baker, the closest thing in the show to a point of view character. Like his brother DJ, Glenn can sing and act and can be depended on for a thoughtful and considered performance.
The other nineteen or so members of the cast were all well-rehearsed, tuneful, and lively. Amy Kleespies, playing the Baker’s wife, sang very well, as did Christina Ried, playing Cinderella, and, really just about everybody in the cast. Rachel Hunt sounded good singing the Stepmother part.
Nor was there a falling off in acting. Rick Munson, playing the uncomfortable character called The Narrator, communicated well. The director herself appeared as Granny, one of the characters who pop up to recall lines of the complicated plot during brief transitional passages.
And perhaps most impressive of all the performers were a couple of JCHS juniors, Taylor Collette, who played the tough but skipping Red Riding Hood, and Joshua Childs, who played the less than brilliant Jack. They could sing. They established characters. They even danced during the little stretch at the end of the first act when there was some choreography to follow.
So. All good work in aid of what? While Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for this shuffling of fairy-tale story elements, James Lapine wrote the playscript. The first act is self-contained, telling the story of what happened when the Baker and his wife tried to oblige a witch who wanted certain items, in return for which the couple would get a baby. So into the spooky woods we go on a sort of scavenger hunt.
Complicating this business are the intrusion of a couple of other stories. Jack’s mother sends him off to sell Milky White, his pet cow, and he loses his way in the forest. And then for some reason Cinderella, dressed not for “the prince’s ball” but for “the king’s festival,” is running around out there too, along with Red Riding Hood, whose presence at least makes reference to the traditional story. Eventually everyone reaches their happy ending.
But then we get the contrasting second set in which the stories are extended and happiness falters. Unfortunately this is also the act when Sondheim’s ballad mode kicks in and, except for a reprise of the two prince’s “Agony,” the music gets into a rut.
Nevertheless, this is an occasionally charming and wholly interesting show, and the Little Theater company gave it an outstanding performance. So we had a pleasant evening with our neighbors to the west.