Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Seattle Musical Theatre ventures Into the Woods for Season Closer

Julie Drummond
Revisiting a show they had great success with back in the early '90s (when the company was still known as Civic Light Opera) Seattle Musical Theatre seems destined to have a popular success with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, quite possibly the only Sondheim musical with wide appeal for family audiences. The Tony Award-winning score and book are hard to go wrong with, and some of SMT's trek through this devilishly clever mix of several Grimm's Brothers fairytales is engaging, though the path to get there is not always a smooth one, largely due to unremarkable and often unfocused direction by Victoria Webb.

The characters going Into the Woods include Cinderella and her whole extended family and Prince, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and his mother, Little Red Riding Hood, and, invented by Lapine, a childless Baker, his wife and a witch who tie into the Rapunzel tale. The lighter first act shows the characters on their quests to get their respective wishes, no matter what, and the darker-hued second act is all about repercussions and re-groupings. The show basically tells us that happily ever after is nonsense, and we're lucky to get happily for now, and that will only, maybe, come if we work hard at it. For me, act two is what really propels this show into the realm of great Broadway musicals, though many others wish it concluded with the more traditionally plotted act one.

It is a near three-hour piece, and SMT's production dawdles at times. Webb takes a pretty by the numbers and static approach to a show that lends itself to the imagination and inventiveness of its director. More importantly, her casting is uneven. Several key players are spot on, while others seem to need more guidance in their character development. The top performers among the principals are Ashley Coates, who totally inhabits the Cinderella role, making her a sweet yet fallible young lady who grows to womanhood as her illusions about her Prince Charming are rudely shattered. Coates also had a lovely voice which does full justice to her solo "On the Steps of the Palace," and captures all the poignancy possible when she joins in on the moving quartet "No One is Alone." Julie Drummond is delicious as a plump and perky Red Riding Hood, and she shows she knows her way around a tricky Sondheim lyric with her splendidly delivered "I Know Things Now." Josh Ryder is devilishly cunning as the ultimately unfortunate wolf who runs afoul of Little Red and her Granny, having a grand go of it with the Wolf's "Hello Little Girl"; and as Cinderella's Prince he meshes magically with Justin Carrell, playing Rapunzel's Prince, taking the lyrically ravishing duet "Agony" to new heights of comic one upsmanship.

Dallas Millholland soars on all her vocals as the Witch, and has a good grip on the character's dynamics. As the Baker's Wife, Britt Boyd pretty well nails the driven yet devoted character, and serves up a savory rendition of "Moments in the Wood," but she is not well-paired with Vincent J. Orduna's Baker. Orduna has some solid line deliveries, but also the weakest voice among the principals, which diminishes his effectiveness in the piquant duet "It Takes Two" with Boyd, and throughout the show. It is hard to accept Boyd and Orduna as a couple, and because of that, some of the heart of the show goes missing. Colin Madison looks the part of Jack but misses the character's comic opportunities. Madison's vocals on "Giants in the Sky" are also uneven, given the demands of the number. Patricia Haines-Ainsworth gives a fairly one-note performance as Jack's Mother. Lauren Smith is an appropriately self-involved Rapunzel, and shines in her "Our Little World" duo with Millholland. As the Narrator, J. Stegar Thompson allows the character to comment too much on the action, and his turn as the Mysterious Man who turns out to be the missing-in-action father of two key characters, isn't really eccentric enough. Brynne Geiszler and Kelly Middleton romp through the roles of Cinderella's stepsisters, though Victoria Rimoczi is a rather lifeless Stepmother. David Torres is an appropriately uppity Steward, and a hearty bravo to Arwen Dewey, who makes a feisty impression as Red's Granny, and handles the purely vocal roles of Cinderella's Mother and the Giant with ease.

Musical director Paul Linnes does well by the Sondheim score, capturing the pleasures and nuances of it with a quite accomplished manner as he heads up a solid quintet of musicians. Though Into the Woods is not a show that requires choreographic dazzle, it needs more oomph and less repetitiveness than that devised by choreographer Kelly Middleton. Jason Phillips' scenic and projection designs are respectable, though they hint at unrealized possibilities, and lighting designer Richard Schaefer has fared well here. Julia Evanovich has costumed most of the show quite handsomely, save a disappointing act one outfit for the Witch.

In the final analysis, while their Into the Woods doesn't quite measure up to several recent SMT efforts, it is a respectable production that will have a lot of audience appeal.

Into the Woods by Seattle Musical Theatre, performs at the Magnuson Park Community Center Building through May 21st. For tickets or information contact the SMT box office at 206-363-2809 or visit them online at

Photo: Lee Damon

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.

- David Edward Hughes

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