Sondheim’s Into the Woods charmed most critics when it opened in 1987 with the enchanted journey through a variety of fairytales and characters with intertwining plots. The show blends playfulness with some definite Freudian undertones, including mistakes in parenting and abandonment. All of the stories (including Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Baker and His Wife — devised by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine — involve a trek through the woods, each getting tangled up with the others. After the “happily ever after” of the first act, the characters return to discover everything has a price; everyone must pay in turn.
Some of the lead performers in Theatre@CBT’s weekend production had really fine singing voices. One that soared was Michelle Moses Einstein as Cinderella. Her voice had the right amount of vulnerability and sweetness to convey the role. Other notable strong performances were Lauren-Nicole Gabel as The Witch, and Alissa Margolis as Jack’s mother. David Pirog also encompassed the mood of Cinderella’s Prince — a comedic combination of “charming” with the trait of arrogance, and a lovely baritone voice. Katie Weigl Strain practically stole the show as Little Red Ridinghood. Her comic timing was absolute; her facial and vocal expressions came through splendidly despite the limitations of a mask. She embodied the spirit of Little Red — a childlike naivete combined with a fierce, precocious nature.
All the performers did pretty well through difficult solos by blending strong acting with the singing, and several of the supporting players vocalized beautifully, adding a harmonic “village” quality in the full ensemble numbers. A couple of other noted performances were MollyBeth Rushfield as the cow, Milky White. I have not seen the cow portrayed with a live actor before, though it has been done. At first, I was skeptical. But, it lent itself to some humorous moments, especially when in scenes reading “Moo and Grow Rich.” Another little nod should be given to Jessa Gabel, who portrayed Cinderella’s bird friends as she should have, with the actor in the background and the focus on the prop for the sake of the story.
Into the Woods is a huge technical enterprise, even for professional theater companies. There are several complex staging and theatrical elements that need to combine to create an immersive environment that will actively draw the audience into the story. This didn’t happen, simply because this production had performance space limitations that community theater inevitably has to contend with. There was an audio misstep with the voice of the giant; the amplification didn’t function correctly a few times and the effect lost some momentum. There were essentially no lighting effects. However, the costumes were appropriate and the wigs were fashioned well for the characters, especially Cinderella’s Stepmother and the Stepsisters. And, the orchestra was on point. If you have listened over and over to the cast recording, as I have, you expect to hear the musical embellishments, and the orchestra did quite well in taking on a difficult Sondheim score.
Into the Woods covers multiple themes of growing up, parents and children, and ultimately, the message “Be careful what you wish for.” Despite the shortness of the run, it was, in many aspects, a worthy production.
Into the Woods played February 12 and 13, 2022, at Theatre@CBT (Congregation B’nai Tzedek Community Theatre), 10621 South Glen Road, Potomac, MD.
Baker: Tommy Malek
Baker’s Wife: Courtney James
Little Red Ridinghood: Katie Weigl Strain
The Witch: Lauren-Nicole Gabel
Cinderella: Michelle Moses-Eisenstein
Jack: Emily Lawrence
Jack’s Mother: Alissa Margolis
Stepmother: Elizabeth A Weiss
Narrator: Jennifer Georgia
Cinderella’s Mother, Granny, Giant: Meghan Williams Elkins
Rapunzel: Allison Meyer
Cinderella’s Prince: David Pirog
Rapunzel’s Prince: Tom Barylski
The Wolf: Jeff Breslow
Mysterious Man: Kevin Sockwell
Steward, Cinderella’s Dad: Michael Chernoff
Milky White, Snow White: MollyBeth Rushfield
Stepsisters: Kaylee Chernoff, Ella Fielding, Sari Gabel
Birds, Hen & Baby Cow: Jessa Gabel
Sleeping Beauty: Lauren Fielding
Director: Kevin Sockwell
Music Director: Sam Weich
Props Team: Jessa Gabel, Lauren-Nicole Gabel, Matthew Ratz
Producer: Lauren-Nicole Gabel
Stage Manager, COVID Coordinator: Lauren Fielding
Costumes: Elizabeth A Weiss
Sound Design and Tech: Matthew Datcher
Front of House: David Gabel, Ben Fielding
Sound Effects: Joel Lord, Sarah Katz
Keyboard/Conductor: Sam Weich
Keyboard: Stuart Weich
Violin: Laura Searles
Flute: Lesley Cooper
Clarinet: Rose Weich
Trumpet: James Berman