‘Into the Woods’ by Good Shepherd Players showcases spectacular vocals

Sondheim’s message lives on: The performers are startlingly impressive.

Into the Woods is one of those diorama Broadway shows: it’s got a ton of people on stage, a ton of props, a ton of musical numbers, a ton of classic, nay, essentially sacred characters to get right, and a ton of ideas. Unlike many other diorama shows, which sport large clusters of characters on stage all vying for a piece of narrative pie — Into the Woods is a masterpiece that’s unrelentingly hard to get right. But the Good Shepherd Players do a fantastic job taking on this hefty Sondheim tour-de-force, making the most heartwrenching numbers sing. In moments, this production is visually rough around the edges and overacting is present, but the live orchestra(!) and stellar performances compensate.

Under Nancy Lavallee’s direction, the Good Shepherd Players’ performers are startlingly impressive, with extraordinary operatic vocals under Rachel Bradley’s vocal direction, particularly by Gretchen Midgley as Cinderella, Katherine Lipovsky as the Witch, Sean Garcia as Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf, Leah Boyd as Rapunzel, Tina Ghandchilar as the Baker’s Wife, and Richard Jacobson as the Baker.

Tina Ghandchilar (Baker’s Wife), Richard Jacobson (Baker), Kathleen Jo DiEmidio (Little Red), Jeff Elmore (Steward), and Katherine Lipovsky (Witch) in ‘Into the Woods.’ Photo by Linda Bilotti.

With Lavallee’s direction, Donna Sisson’s costume designs, and Bob Hall’s set design, this is a sort of modern take on Into the Woods — or maybe not? While there are plenty of classic European gothic fairytale visuals, there are also plenty of modern visuals, and there isn’t a clear reason for them to be there simultaneously. This aesthetic split could be a fantastic angle for Into the Woods, and it almost works here, but because of the inconsistencies in execution, I’m not sure it was intentional. Cinderella’s gown looks straight out of the Disney parks while Jack, the Baker, and the Baker’s Wife look like everyday folks at the grocery store. It’s not just a fairytale-vs.-suburban look, though: Rapunzel is frequently in a Jazz Age flapper dress, the Princes are wearing windbreakers with attached epaulets, and Jack’s Mother is dressed for half of the show like both a rural 1940s mother and Dorothy Gale for the other half. Most of the looks are fitting on their own, but together they’re less cohesive.

This production does succeed in adding its own moments of humor to the show. Many lines are delivered that might have been somewhat funny before in ways that get big laughs. However, there are characters and moments that require more reverence in their execution to retain their narrative power. This attempt to inject humor and personality seems connected to some overacting, particularly from the Witch, the Baker’s Wife, and sometimes the Baker, who are giving forte exuberance in mezzo-forte moments. All three of these actors are such excellent singers: if they are worried about making an impression, their spectacular singing gives them more than permission to put that far out of their minds.

Kathleen Jo DiEmidio as Little Red and Adam Gambrel as Jack had their performances exactly right: they are incredible singers with acting styles that match their characters. They also scale their volume and energy to the needs of respective narrative moments. Occasionally Jack wasn’t audible due to mic issues, but when he was, his wonderful performances could shine through.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Gretchen Midgley (Cinderella); Lynn Gilbertson (Milky White Puppeteer), Adam Gambrel (Jack), and Margaret McGarry (Jack’s Mother); Leah Boyd (Rapunzel); Sean Garcia (Wolf) and Kathleen Jo DiEmidio (Little Red), in ‘Into the Woods.’ Photos by Linda Bilotti.

Bob Hall’s set design has a quaint-looking bed, armoire, and wallpaper that could be from a fairytale. However, a few anachronistic props detract from the fairytale/neutral-timeless aesthetic. For instance, before the first note of the show is sung, the Narrator walks to the center of the stage holding toys and trinkets in an Amazon Prime box. I hoped this would be followed up with a modern take on the show, but it was left as an unknotted narrative thread. There is also a suitcase incorporated prominently into the set outside the proscenium labeled in giant white letters “Professor Harold Hill” — a Music Man reference — which could be a fun Easter egg but begs for attention rather than winking at the viewer.

At the end of the day, any issues with the visuals or production elements aside, there are always those last two songs. Jacobson as the Baker, Gambrel as Jack, DiEmidio as Little Red, and Midgley as Cinderella deserve a standing ovation every time for their work in “No More” and “No One Is Alone.” Their beautiful, Broadway-quality vocals, combined with the fantastic orchestra under Music Director Colin Taylor, are spellbinding.

This cast really makes you believe that they have experienced all those deaths and blows to their innocence. Sondheim’s message lives on in this production — and to that I say bravo.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Into the Woods playss through May 19, 2024 (2 PM on Sundays and 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays), presented by The Good Shepherd Players performing at Church of the Good Shepherd, 9350 Braddock Road, Burke, VA. Purchase tickets (adults, $22; students, $15) online.

The program for Into the Woods is online here.

COVID Safety: Masks optional.

Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Originally Directed on Broadway by James Lapine
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick

Director: Nancy Lavallee
Music Director: Colin Taylor
Choreographer: Kathleen McCormack

Rapunzel: Leah Boyd
Sleeping Beauty: Allison Kate Copeland
Rapunzel’s Prince: Jared Diallo
Little Red: Kathleen Jo Diemidio
Steward: Jeff Elmore
Florinda: Megan Fraedrich
Jack: Adam Gambrel
Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf: Sean Garcia
Baker’s Wife: Tina Ghandchilar
Milky White Puppeteer: Lynn Gilbertson
Baker: Richard Jacobson
Narrator/Mysterious Man: Greg Lanave
Snow White: Elizabeth Lavallee
Witch: Katherine Lipovsky
Jack’s Mother: Margaret Mcgarry
Cinderella: Gretchen Midgley
Cinderella’s Mother: Fran Nadel
Cinderella’s Stepmother: Rebecca Roberts
Granny: Barbara Skog
Giant: Casey Sutcliffe
Cinderella’s Father: Paul Smith
Lucinda: Elizabeth Wolfert


  1. Isn’t this cast and orchestra great? If you peek more closely at the set and the eclectic props littering the stage, you might begin to notice that the “woods” of this show is a roughly modern-day attic! The story that unfolds is populated with items and memories of past decades. This musical is a celebration of the tales we tell of our own lives and the ripples of the past into the present!

  2. This reviewer seems to lack an understanding of Sondheim and musical theater in general based on their background and feedback. Perhaps a different reviewer would have been more appropriate.

    It also seems out of place to critique a show so harshly that’s performed at the community theater level. I was under the impression community theater level shows were supposed to be positive feedback only on this website. It discourages participation in community theater if you’re going to potentially receive harsh reviews online.

    • I’d like to request people stop bashing this reviewer.

      She gave our production an unambiguously positive review. The fact that she included critical comments only makes the praise ring truer.

      Accusing her of ignorance is so totally out of line.

      • It is an overwhelmingly negative review. I would assume you are in the cast and perhaps a positive comment was made about you specifically. I’d urge you to reread the review. The only consistent positive feedback was that there were very good vocal abilities in the cast.

        From a production standpoint, everything was criticized, from the concept, to the staging, to the costumes. Then despite saying she was a fan of a few of the actors performances, she also made it very clear she was not a fan of others.

        From my understanding reviewers on this website are instructed to not harshy review community theater productions for the exact reasons I mentioned. It discourages participation. Even if the language is professional, this is a very harsh review for a community level production.

        I’m not bashing anyone. I am simply sharing my opinion on a review that I believe was written in poor taste. The only bashing that was done in this case was the reviewer in regards to the production.

  3. I’d like to request people stop bashing this reviewer.

    She gave our production an unambiguously positive review. The fact that she included critical comments only makes the praise ring truer.

    Accusing her of ignorance is so totally out of line.

    • Both things can be true. She can be right about some things and wrong (or at least misguided) on others. And unambiguous? Really? I don’t think we read the same review. Kind of like I don’t think the reviewer saw the same show I did. Also, community theatre shouldn’t be beyond criticism, but this review just seemed kind of mean-spirited in some places, IMO.

      • I agree. It’s like she had an agenda or something. Do we want community theater to thrive? We should support each other. Her criticisms were way over the top. I thought the blocking was very good and on whole, a solid value for the price of admission. I look forward to seeing more from GSP.

    • I do think this read as a genuinely enthusiastic review, but I thought I’d provide a little more background on the meaning behind some creative choices that she seemed to find confusing, but I respect a critic’s viewpoint as to whether those choices landed for her or not! I hope my earlier comment didn’t read as passive aggressive- it’s hard to spend much time studying the set for “clues” when there’s so much going on onstage.

  4. “The strong vocals make up for overacting, bad costumes, and bad production design” is not an unambiguously positive review.

    • Accusing a community theater of ‘overacting’. SMH. The costumes were great, and I thought the attic concept was pretty interesting. I’ve never seen that before and I’ve seen ITW many times. I thought it was a refreshing take.

      • No kidding. You don’t say bad things about individual performances in a community theater review. It’s sort of Community Theater 101. I always say to my third graders when they want to say something, “Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it necessary?” It might be true, but it isn’t helpful or necessary. It’s community theater for crying out loud. It’s people doing it for the love of it for no money. Don’t single people out. It’s like kicking a puppy.


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