‘Into the Woods’ is a great place to be

October 13 - Cottage Theatre’s current production is “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim musical that disrupts all the childhood memories of fairy tales you were raised with but, in a good way.

Going “into the woods” becomes a metaphor for life. The woods is where you leave your comfort zone, take risks and attempt to change your life. So Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, the Baker and his wife and many other imaginary friends head off, trying to make their “wish” come true.

The play begins in the Baker’s (Kory Weimer) cottage. The Baker and his wife (Brittany Dreier) are sad that they are unable to have a child. Then along comes Little Red Ridinghood (Maddie Paige) cheerfully shopping for goodies to take to Granny. And off she goes; into the woods. No surprise who she meets there: a wolf (Laurel Merz), singing a creepy, seductive song, “Hello, Little Girl.” The wolf is the first of the three dark shadows — the Wolf, the Witch and the Giant

The Witch (Maya Burton) visits the Baker’s cottage next and explains that their house has been cursed because Jack’s father dared to take vegetables from her garden. She demands that Jack bring her four objects: a cow as white as snow, a cape as red as blood, hair as white as corn silk and a shoe as pure as gold. Only then will she lift the curse. Jack starts off to find the items, instructing his wife to stay home. Independent woman that she is, she takes a different path as she also looks for the items.

Next, we meet Jack (Audriahna Jones) and his mother (Nancy West) who are despairing over their poverty. The only solution seems to be selling Milky White, the family cow and Jack’s best friend (manipulated by Aislinn Mirsch). And of course Jack sells her for some magic beans.

The Baker’s wife meets Cinderella (Jaclyn Beck) running through the woods from the Prince. She explains she has met and danced with the Prince, but she is a little uncertain about how she feels and what to do, so she ran, leaving the decision up to the Prince.

The Narrator (D. Matthew Kelty) appears frequently and helps the audience follow the story.

It’s a good thing, because we have yet to meet Rapunzel (Katie Kincaid), Cinderella’s stepmother (Daniel Borson) and the stepsisters (Sophia Blades and Adelaide Grass).

Although this musical is sometimes dark (and a little scary), it also has some delightful surprises and a set that is gloomy one moment, warm and friendly the next. Mark VanBeever’s set design is perfect, with trees rolling on and off and a projection behind them. The lighting moves the set from day to night and back again and the whole set is perfect with the fairy-tale atmosphere.

Sondheim’s music is notoriously difficult for performers. The clever lyrics and rapid-fire key changes challenge performers and delight audiences.

Director Mark VanBeever has cast some talented performers. Notable among them: Burton as the Witch has an amazing voice and stage presence. When she’s onstage, your eyes are drawn to her. Little Red Ridinghood, my favorite in the cast, can sing, dance and project the sassy attitude of a precocious child. Cinderella’s womanizing Prince, Sophie Mitchell, explains her arrogance with “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Even with her counterpoint, Rapunzel’s Prince, played by Assistant Director Amber Hagen opening night, the duets in which the brothers moan about the difficulties in their lives were solid and fun.

This review isn’t done without mentioning the choreographer and the costumers. Lindy Lou Smith is back with her outstanding choreography, a necessity for a good musical, and Rhonda Turnquist and her committee captured Early Fairy Tale costuming perfectly. The aprons, the little caps and the patches on the clothes were fit for nearly any Mother Goose or Brothers Grimm story.

It seems worth mentioning that the 2009 production of “Into the Woods” was directed by the late Peg Major. The Major family was instrumental in the early days of the Cottage Theatre in bringing the quality of musicals from amateurish to nearly professional. Sometimes we forget the groundbreakers we have had, so here’s a shout out to Peg.

“Into the Woods” runs through Oct. 23 with performances Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sunday performances are at 2:30 p.m., evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $27 for adults and $15 for youth 18 and under. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Friday. Learn more at www.cottagetheatre.org