Fairy tales come to life in AU's 'Into the Woods'

Fri, 2009-10-02 08:46 -- univcomm
October 2, 2009

Seeking comfort amid chaos and friends amid strangers, the characters of Stephen Sondheim’s "Into the Woods" are a hodgepodge of fairy tale stars battling the realities of their "happy endings."

into-woodsJack, of beanstalk fame, can’t be left in his gleeful world after killing his giant; the giant’s wife goes on a revengeful spree.

Cinderella’s prince can’t stay faithful; he gives the royal treatment to another common girl.

And Red Riding Hood, well, she just looks buff wearing a wolf skin jacket.

All meet in the woods, where they tackle their fears of being alone and lost in a world of harrowing tragedy.

So it’s easy for these overlapping plots to jumble together unless there is clear articulation by each character. In the first act of this enjoyable Anderson University production, the enthusiastic orchestra overwhelms dialogue, at least in the rehearsal I visited. Characters’ intentions and back stories are drowned out.

Some performances rise above the din, thanks to the determination of the actors. Matthew Hougland, as Jack, fills his role with tender little moments as a simpleton. Meaghan Sands, as the childless Baker’s wife, fully involves the audience by playing off her own wifely practicality with an all-knowing grin. With an inviting soprano, her performance is as rich as the layers of her aprons. As princes, Joe De Winkle and Seth Rodden, harmonize like true chums for the show-stopping "Agony." And don’t overlook the sad, trudging walk of Jack’s cow, played moo-vingly by Audrey Brinkley.

By the second act, the band plays softer and sweeter, giving characters the space to reflect on their plights.

The standout is Deborah Mae Fights, taking on the role played on Broadway by Bernadette Peters as the witch. Confident and beguiling, Fights makes a spellbinding transition from hag to beauty. She enlivens the show with a sparkling stage presence and an assured vocal.

The orchestra, led by David Duncan, really connects in the second half, notably with a sparkling flute intro rolling into soothing fullness on "No One is Alone."

The set is well used with characters rushing across a sundial of a stage; the woods are stark poles, nicely lit in hazy hues (though you’ll want to sit in the center or right sections to see the final act by Jack and the Baker). More of the focus may be on the costumes by Patty Daehn whose intricate patterns define the story’s depth.

Happiness is fragile, a simple lesson from "Into the Woods." But Anderson University theater students admirably provide a lasting joy that not only takes us into the woods but gives us lasting lessons to take back out into life.

into-woods3"Into the Woods"

When: 7:30 p.m. today,; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 11.

Where: Byrum Hall, Anderson University

Admission: $12 for adults: $10 for seniors and military, $5 for students.

Director: Laurel Goetzinger Music Director: David Duncan Choreographer: Matthew Farmer.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine.

—Scott L. Miley is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credits: Don Knight. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.