Sunday, July 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of Into The Woods at Bayway Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of Into The Woods at Bayway Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Into The Woods
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Jason P. Allyn
Costume Design by Joseph Kassner
BroadHollow Theatre Company
at Bayway Arts Center
265 East Main Street
East Islip, New York 11730
Reviewed 7/22/16 

Into The Woods opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on November 5, 1987, and closed on September 3, 1987 after 765 performances. The show was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three in the categories of Best Score (Stephen Sondheim), Best Book (James Lapine) and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). The 2002 Broadway revival began previews on April 13, 2002 and opened April 30, 2002 at the Broadhurst Theatre, closing on December 29, 2002 after a run of 18 previews and 279 regular performances. The revival won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Lighting Design. In 2014, a theatrical film adaptation of Into The Woods was produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $213 million worldwide.

The musical intertwines the plots of several original Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales. The main characters are taken from "Little Red Riding Hood", "Jack And The Beanstalk", "Rapunzel", and "Cinderella", as well as a number of others. The musical is brilliantly tied together by a story involving a childless Baker and his Wife (the original beginning of The Grimm Brothers' "Rapunzel"). The Baker's neighbor, an ugly old Witch, reveals that the source of the couple's infertility is a curse she placed on the Baker's line after catching the Baker's father in her garden stealing greens, including six "magic" beans. She agrees to lift the curse if the Baker and his Wife can find the four ingredients she needs for a certain potion - "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold - all before the chime of midnight in three days' time." While in the woods, the Baker and his Wife run into many of the storybook characters, while at the same time we are given insights into their lives, challenges, morality, and how far each is willing to go to achieve their selfish goals. Does the end really justify the beans? Can you kill someone (Jack's mom) for the sake of the greater good while at the same time allowing indiscriminate death and destruction by not turning Jack over to the Lady Giant, who seeks revenge (or justice) for his having killed her husband and for stealing the golden harp and the goose who lays the golden eggs?

This production of Into The Woods, another hit for the BroadHollow Theatre Company, features high quality and talented performers, an exquisite set, and colorful costumes. Bob Butterley was very impressive in the role of Baker, a character who learned to appreciate the contribution his Wife could make to help them achieve their mutual goals. Maryellen Molfetta-Evans played the Baker's Wife and was very much his equal in terms of having a strong personality, which is probably why they always fought so much. Both were willing to justify more and more questionable actions in order to lift the curse and have a child. While the Baker's attempts to keep his Wife safe ultimately fail, he did learn not to repeat the mistake his own father made by abandoning him when times got tough. Joy Butterley rose to the challenge to successfully portray the complexity of The Witch, a no-nonsense realist willing to accept "the blame" so long as she could do what was called for. Andrew Morrison was perfect in the role of Jack, a rather simple boy, who loved Milky-White, his cow. As his mother said, "Children can be very Queer when it comes to their animals." So why should Jack's life be spared? He is a thief and a murderer. Does he get a pass because he is mentally challenged or is he protected by his friends simply because they know him? They proceed to kill the Lady Giant even after acknowledging that "witches can be right" and "giants can be good." Perhaps the ultimate moral relativism is saying that defending your friends, right or wrong, is ethically justified in all circumstances simply because you believe it is the right thing to do, regardless of the chain of events and reactions you may set in motion. So Jack lives and the Lady Giant dies! But they must not forget, "Someone is on your side. Someone else is not. While we're seeing our side. Maybe we forgot: They are not alone. No one is alone!" Actions have long-term consequences!

The supporting cast was very strong, especially Londier Collier, who was Rapunzel's Prince and Wolf 2, and Caitlin Blair Thistle, who was the selfish, and yet, curious, Little Red Riding Hood who sometimes strayed from the path and, in so doing, lost her innocence. Cinderella also faced a crisis not quite knowing what she wanted in life. Sure, she wanted to go to the Ball, but as she said, "Wanting a Ball is not wanting a Prince." She also questioned, "how can you know what you want till you get what you want and see if you like it?" I had problems hearing David Kacinski, who played the Steward. I am not certain if the problem was technical or just a matter of projection. In any case, it was a distraction. Every cast member made a significant contribution to the success of this production, which I highly recommend you see.    

There are many serious problems with the program that made it difficult to figure out who played what roles. Elizabeth Degennaro and Kristen Keller are both listed as playing Jack's Mother. Kami Crary and Nikki Sislian are both listed in the role of Step Mother. If these actors were playing the role in different performances, this should have been noted in the program or in a supplement handed out to the audience on the evening of the show. No one is listed as having played Cinderella. Perhaps it was Tamralynn Dorsa, for whom no role is listed. In addition, no one is listed as having played the Narrator, but based on custom, I am going to assume it was James R. Lotito, the same actor who played The Mysterious Man. Although his was a small role, he handled it extremely well and left a lasting emotional impact on the audience especially when encouraging his son not to run away as he did. ("Running away, let's do it! Free from the ties that bind. Trouble is, son, The farther you run, The more you feel un-defined. For what you have left undone, And more, what you've left behind.") That is good advice for anyone considering running away from their problems. You end up facing, "Just more questions, different kinds."

Some of my favorite lines in this musical are when The Witch tells Rapunzel, "Princes wait there in the world, it's true, Princes yes, but wolves and humans, too." The Baker's Wife cautions, "If you know what you want, you go and you find it and you get it. You many know what you need but to get what you want, better see that you keep what you have." Finally, reflecting his complete resignation and emotional pain upon the loss of his wife, the Baker said, "No more riddles. No more jests. No more curses you can't undo. Left by fathers you never knew. No more quests. No more feelings. Time to shut the door. Just - no more!" And yet, faced with his own child, a princess who lost her prince and castle, a girl who lost her grandmother, and a boy who lost his mother, the Baker rallies. Cinderella says, "Hard to see the light now." The Baker responds, "Just don't let it go" and together they say, "Things will come out right now. We can make it so." I wish!

There are two remaining performances of Into The Woods on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $23.00 for adults and $21.00 for seniors 65 years of age or older. You can call 631-581-2700 for reservations or else visit BroadHollow Theatre Company's website at 

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