Fairy tale theater

Head Into the Woods in South Portland
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  February 20, 2014

 theater_woods2_main

HAPPILY EVER AFTER? An energetic and colorfully
costumed cast bring storybook characters to life in South Portland.
Photo by Audra Hatch

So Cinderella gets the Prince, and Jack kills the Giant. We all know the endings, but do they really wrap everything up? It’s the quandary of what transpires after “ever after” that fuels Stephen Sondheim’s musical farce of fractured and interfused fairytales, Into the Woods. Raymond Marc Dumont directs an energetic, vivid, and very capably performed community theater production — one with a plethora of satisfying grace notes — at Lyric Music Theater.

All of the show’s fairy tale principals want something badly. The Baker (Tommy Waltz) and the Baker’s Wife (Kim Drisko) yearn for a child, and go scurrying after the ingredients of a potion to reverse the curse of the neighbor Witch (Rebecca Rinaldi). Cinderella (Kelsie Camire) wants to go to the Prince’s big shindig. Jack (Zach Anderson) wants to not sell his beloved cow, then to buy it back. And Little Red Riding Hood (Abigail Ackley) just wants to get to grandma’s house. As storybook types, these characters are cast and acted for delicious physical and tonal juxtapositions: There’s great contrast between the earnestness of Drisko’s earthy, gentle Baker’s Wife, the precise comedy of Ackley’s pert, doll-like Little Red, the animated, dark-eyed longing of Camire as Cinderella, and the dulcet blonde neurotics of Rachel Jane Henry’s Rapunzel. Likewise, Waltz’s mensch-y, scurrying Baker contrasts well with both David Aaron Van Duyne’s smarmy, vacant, oft-leaping Prince, and Jack, with Anderson’s boyish shifts from slump to sprightly. Together they constellate a colorful and delightfully myriad corps as they all venture, as they must, into the woods.

Those woods are rendered simply and evocatively in Donald Smith’s set design, with a backdrop of sinuous, briar-like branches against a coal-and-blue sky, with panels of black scrim hung at various depths of the stage. Costuming is as bright and finely-wrought as ribbon-candy, and uniformly excellent (costume designer Louise Keezer has outdone herself): Cinderella’s nicely snide, white ringlet-wigged step-mom (Jeannine Cannizzo) and sisters (Kacy Christine Woodworth and Brie Roche) start off in pink gowns, wear peacock and emerald for Cinderella’s wedding, and finish up in pomegranate and raspberry. The Witch’s face is elaborately masked with what looks, bracingly, like the root of a tree. The Baker has cunning little touches of red at the cuffs of his mustard-brown jacket, and Little Red, in her lacy white bodice and quilted velvet skirt, is the Platonic ideal of a valentine.

The show is rife with treats of nuance. Ackley’s Little Red has a marvelous physical presence and comedy as she skips and halts about the woods; she has a fun, swift little sequence snatching baked goods from the Baker’s table, and her eyes shift back and forth like a cartoon’s as she dances with the wolf. Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s respective Princes — brothers, of course — differentiate themselves via delightful little minutiae: where Van Duyne leaps high and is pleased with himself, John U. Robinson leaps lower, and wobbles a little. Sound design gives crashes disarming verisimilitude, as the giant approaches; the offstage band swings; and the cast also boasts many fine and expressive voices (though occasionally the timing of vocals and band slipped out of synch). Rinaldi does a bang-up job belting out the grim but erotic dissolution of “Last Midnight.”

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