Cast members of “Into the Woods” at the Papillion-La Vista Community Theatre have pretty impressive credentials, especially when it comes to vocal work.
» Sara Warner, who plays Cinderella in the Stephen Sondheim musical, has been on opera stages for the past 10 years and has a master’s degree in music.
» Aaron Lawrence, who plays dual roles in the show, has been in two operas at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he’s studying for his bachelor’s in music education.
» Katie Miller, an Omaha minister who’s playing against type as the Witch, has been a singer in the Shedd Aquarium Holiday Fantasea in Chicago.
» Grace Heldridge, who’s Rapunzel, was recently selected as a sophomore to sing in the undergraduate honors recital at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and will perform with the Lawrence Opera Theatre in August.
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And they are just a few of the top-notch performers director Suzanne Withem and music director Liz Stinman assembled for the show, which opened Friday at the SumTur Amphitheatre in Papillion. Other standouts include Brian Priesman as the Baker, Alissa Hanish as the Baker’s Wife, Hannah Rembert as Little Red Riding Hood and Jackson Mikkelsen as Jack (as in the beanstalk kid).
If you weren’t already familiar with the musical, you’ve probably guessed by now that it’s a mashup of characters from various fairy tales. Sondheim and James Lapine, who wrote the book, adroitly devised a story line that plausibly linked their individual stories, especially considering they were fantasies to begin with.
Withem has created a solid production, surrounding those expressive singers and actors with a beautiful set by Ben Adams — platforms of varying heights that ably served for everything from cottages to the flora and fauna of the woods. The main platform was a ramp, which made dance numbers fun and interesting.
At Thursday’s preview night, however, some technical issues were distressing and distracting. Sound problems recurred throughout, especially during dialogue (sometimes, actors sounded as though they didn’t have mics at all; at other times, microphone feedback was ear-splitting.) Spotlights and lights strung across the set misbehaved (at one point, I wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be blinking on and off or if it was a malfunction.) There were a few hiccups with lines.
The sound woes were especially unfortunate, because these folks deserve to be heard. Given that it was the eve of opening night, such things are to be expected. I suspect they will be substantially solved when you see it.
A totally subjective thing kept me from loving this show, however, no matter how accomplished the cast or how beautiful it was (costumes from Ibsen and Bradley Pesarchick added a lot to the look).
I just didn’t like the story all that well, primarily in the second act.
There’s no denying that the writing was special — Sondheim is known for his clever wordplay, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I also found myself absorbed in the way disparate stories seemed to make sense as a whole. And I was fairly enthusiastic right up to the end of the first act, which has a smashing, “happily ever after” finale. That, of course, is by design, giving you a hint that there may be cracks in paradise. The three narrators, Sherry Josand Fletcher, Emma Johnson and River Fisher, had the last word before intermission: “To be continued.”
Unfortunately, for me, the second act didn’t deliver on that promise. It actually seemed a little creepy. I left feeling like I had been there a tad too long.
And while there were several pleasant songs (“Giants in the Sky,” “Agony,” “Stay With Me,” and more), I wasn’t too taken by the music, which mostly was a series of short pieces with no show-stoppers. It seemed choppy.
I’m almost positive I’m in the minority here. That’s OK. It’s not all about me. Tony Awards and millions of Sondheim fans speak for themselves.
And despite my gut reactions, I still enjoyed the experience. You won’t be sorry if you spend a night under the stars listening to some heavenly voices.