‘Into The Woods’ is __________________.

Diane Druper

Opening weekend of “Into the Woods” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim provided substantial entertainment at Northern Michigan University. Director Paul Truckey presented the production on a minimalistic, multi-level thrust stage with the audience on three sides of the play area.

A leaf-woven lattice backdrop in combination with lighting, sound and a fog machine portrayed the likeness of a dark forest, beautifully brought to life by the actors. Orchestrating so many characters on a small stage required meticulous detail in blocking and timing as well as ardent focus from everyone on and off the stage, including the technical crew.re-IntoTheWoods_JR_USEtif

Sondheim already presents difficult music, but this theater company also included choice sound effects such as the occasional chirping of birds in the forest, the rumble of a giant’s step and the cry of an infant. When the entire cast sung as a chorus, the harmony flooded the Blackbox with energy. There were moments in which some of the notes were off-key when there were fewer characters involved in a song, but they were few and far between.

Liza Hunter, portraying the Witch, delivered a powerful performance with a commanding stage presence. When bent and “ugly,” her enthusiastic spell-casting moved the audience with laughter and her performance only improved after her transformation.

The use of levels constantly kept the Witch in a dominating position above the other characters, never bending or lowering herself beneath them once clad in her beautiful white dress. The stoic pain Hunter portrayed after the giant took what she held most dear, and the moments following it, were riveting and revealed a new dimension of her character.

The costumes were simple with finer details to help characterize the story, one of the most symbolic being the knitted apron pockets of the Baker’s wife played by Sara Parks. Her pockets matched the scarf she shared with the Baker, John Pann, representing how she held the relationship together at the seams. Pann and Parks bounced between marital bliss and bickering with smooth realism and built a connection through the knitted scarf that they shared.

Dane Wurmlinger, playing Jack, appeared youthful and inquisitive in the decisions he made about Jack’s movement and mannerisms. Alex Marks portrayed his mother, characteristically stern and protective. She offered numerous comedic and audacious moments, especially when arguing with her own voice as the Giant.

Gabbi Scarcliff, playing Cinderella, balanced the wistful dreams and tenderness of her character well with her aloofness toward riches and nobility. The clichéd add-glasses-for-ugliness somehow worked with Cinderella’s layers of servant clothing, making her almost unrecognizable in her beautiful ball gown.

Korrine Griffith, the Stepmother, gave a solid performance of condescension. Stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda, played by Allison Luciano and Lilith Kontos respectively, appeared perfectly obnoxious and annoying with many dashes of hilarity. One of them even chomped on a piece of gum, traditionally unacceptable on stage.

No one could forget the fickle and charming princes with their outcries of “agony.” Ethan Bott, playing Cinderella’s Prince in constant pursuit, sported a dashing grin and amusing exaggeration in his character’s self-adornment. Ben Filipowicz, depicting both Rapunzel’s Prince and the Wolf, had such precision in his isolated gestures to enchant the viewer regardless of situation especially in his hungry stalking of Little Red, played by Janae Peterson.

Peterson’s enthusiasm, whether it be her character’s love of sweets or knife-wielding, had a contagious effect to keep the entire production energized. Renee Robertson played Granny, as well as Cinderella’s mother. Her kind smile and stage-relationship with Peterson could lead the audience to believe they were actually family.

Katherine Marsh played the elusive, tower-bound Rapunzel and emitted a truly ethereal voice as well as the necessary hysteria when prompted. It was disappointing in her reprisal at the end of the show when she lost some of her voice, but it only reminds actors how imperative routine warm-ups and maintenance are to keep themselves healthy.

Acting is difficult enough without even considering the hours involved practicing their music. Some even handle additional tasks, such as Dorsey Sprouls playing the loyal Steward, who flew Cinderella’s birds on stage. Every actor, no matter how large or small a role, lends to the vision of the play and the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief. Dave Dagenais, Cinderella’s Father, appeared only a few times yet had the same intensity as the rest of the cast.

Notable mention goes to the comedic MVP of the show, Milky White, played by a small stuffed animal. Productions of “Into the Woods” use a variety of methods to represent this difficult prop, but this cast and crew maximized the comedic possibilities of the show with their choice. “Into The Woods” will be performed nightly until Saturday, and it’s an experience that should not be missed.