This past Thursday, April 6 in Old Chapel, the Mountebanks Theater Club premiered its production of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical “Into the Woods.” With an elaborate set and even more elaborate score, tackling this Sondheim classic was certainly a feat unto itself. However, considering Mountebanks’s limited funding, time and resources it was a commendable effort. For a majority of the musical’s cast, “Into the Woods” was only their first or second theatrical debut, and while there were some strange and perhaps flawed directorial and production choices, as a whole it was a solid attempt at an advanced show.
Told by “a mysterious narrator,” “Into the Woods” follows a large cast of silly, satirized fairytale characters that journey into the magical forest to chase their dreams. Jump starting this adventure are the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, who yearn for a child only to learn from the neighboring witch that their family has been cursed with infertility for stealing magic beans from her garden. With a time constraint of “three midnights” the Witch tasks the couple to find specific ingredients for a potion in order to lift the curse.
During the couple’s journey to retrieve the items, the audience is introduced to Cinderella, Prince Charming, Rapunzel and her Prince (as well as Prince Charming’s brother), Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, and Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” his cow, Milky White and Jack’s Mother. However, what begins as a silly story soon turns dark as the character’s wishes and lives go awry due to their (often selfish) decisions. Spearheading the production was student director Jay Isaacs ’19 and producer Arielle Singer ’18.
Due to cost constraints as well as a limited pool of available cast members and last minute changes, Isaacs stepped in as the witch more than a quarter of the way through the production’s development. As the witch, Isaacs delivered a good performance, bringing the attitude and menacing yet elusive presence that the role required. This said, it is clear that Isaacs was a novice director. Some of the actors were cast in very difficult roles that may not have been suitable to their vocal ranges or characterization.
The score is very difficult, and for a majority of the show the actors hit the beats and notes however there were a few points in the show where a few cast members were off the music or didn’t quite hit the notes. For a musical that features big, overdramatized and satirized characters, some of the cast members could have been even more over-the-top in their performances in order to tell such an enchantingly wild story. The set was intricate and beautiful, including vines draped across Old Chapel’s balcony. The lighting was also well done, and helped enhance the mood of certain scenes, including spotlighting characters and using different colors to dramatize death scenes.
However, the set transitions were clunky; very little attempt was made to hide the set transitions. Crew members were sent out in full lighting and full view of the audience sometimes with no actors to distract from changes made to the set. The result was fragmented and pulled the audience away from the story, attracting more attention to the set transitions than to the show itself. Costume design and decisions were great, excellently showcasing the iconic fairytale characters and combining innovation, creativity and tradition into each ensemble. The seating arrangement did not optimize the limited space provided by venue.The seating was at least four rows deep with no elevation rendering the play almost impossible to view from the back.
I personally missed multiple character deaths because I could not clearly see the actors. It may have been a better idea to arrange the seating in a thinner semicircle around the play area as well as the upper levels of Old Chapel. Once again noting the difficulty of the musical’s score, at certain points in the show the musicians completely overpowered the actors as they were without microphones. The musicians seemed as if they were not fully comfortable with the sheet music as they had little rehearsal time for a very difficult score. Introducing the show was Matthew Dulchinos ’20 as the narrator. Dulchinos has been making an impact in the Mountebanks productions this year, starring as the wall in their fall production of The Fantasticks.
His loud, enthusiastic portrayal captivated the audience. His ability to switch roles between the narrator and mysterious man is worth noting as well. It was clear in the differences between the two roles, and his acting suited them both fantastically. One strength of the show was the various relationships between cast members including Jack and Milky White, portrayed by Ross DeMarco ’19 and Anna Gagion ’19, respectively. DeMarco put on a stellar performance with his strong vocals, comedic acting and successful portrayal of Jack. Gagion did a wonderful job as Milky White, complementing DeMarco’s character as his faithful cow and friend. Kyle Miller ’18, a Mountebanks production regular, brought in both strong vocals and great acting as the baker.
He captures the essence of baker bringing out a balanced portrayal of his insecurity and good heart. Singer ’18, another powerful vocalist, played the baker’s wife. Miller and Singer complemented each other well, depicting their relationship in great depth. Another great relationship between actors that came out of the show was that of Cinderella’s prince and Rapunzel’s prince portrayed by Michael Stalteri ’19, another Mountebanks production veteran, and Nathan Oasis ’19, respectively. Their voices complemented each other beautifully during their two duets. The two actors played off each other well, adding some great comedy through showing the audience the pompous nature of the two princes. While the Mountebanks’s version of “Into the Woods” did contain some visible mistakes, the cast and crew delivered solid performances.