Once upon a time...

In 1986, Stephen Sondheim's classical musical premiered, and since then, it has become one of the most well-recognized productions in modern theatre history. It tells the story of several fairy tale characters as their lives intertwine, playing out their familiar stories during the first act of the production. During the second act, the stories fall from the predictable, and delve into what happens in that "happily ever after" part. It seems from the perspective of Sondheim and James Lapine (book), it is rarely happy.

As I said, "Into The Woods" is a well known classic...well known classics in theatre run the risk of being over produced. EVERYONE has done "Into The Woods," it seems. You may have even seen the movie adaptation starring Merryl Streep and Johnny Depp. Admittedly, as with most movie versions of plays, there was some creative licence taken, but for the most part, it's still set in the woods, the second half is still dark and heavy, and they say the phrase "Into The Woods" about 237,000 times.

But how do you take something that has been seen by countless theatre and movie patrons, and make it fresh and new in order to get them to want to see it again, all the while enticing new eyes to the audience rows?

Enter Stage Center!

Stage Center's version is stripped down to its bare elements of great story telling, amazing songs, and some draw dropping performances without the pomp and circumstance of building an entire forest on Marjorie Lyons' stage. As a matter of fact, it's all based around a central character change.

In the original version, the narrator was an older man who stood on the sidelines as the narrative moved forward. In Stage Center's version, the narrator is played by a young boy (Courtland Anderson), and the play takes place in his attic. At the start of the show, we hear an argument taking place between a father and son. We see Courtland run onto stage from the audience, presumably to hide from his dad, and enter the attic. From then, using things he finds in old chests and on dusty shelves, he constructs the winding tale from his imagination, and Stage Center's group of actors performs it as he thinks it up. Well...until the second act...no spoilers.

I saw the final dress rehearsal of the show, and (albeit there were a few stumbles...it's a dress rehearsal) I was not only surprised by how easily the story fell into the new setting, but how well the whole show was staged, performed, and presented. One of the major things was that twenty characters are portrayed by fourteen actors, some of which are switching back and forth two and three times during a scene, and every actor that had to play multiple roles made sure each character was different just enough, with slight body adjustments and costume changes, to tell them apart.

Standout performances for me were Missy Wise as The Witch, and Jayce Gilbert as The Baker's Wife. Both of these women have strong stage presence, amazing voices, and honest acting chops. Wise's performance was unblemished, even though she was playing a character that you really wanted to hate. Gilbert, on the other hand, as the Baker's sweet and childless wife, was caring and compassionate, but still strong enough to do what's right (well...until the second act...no spoilers).

Other great showings were Cinderella played by Hollis Scarborough, John Peyton Pou as Jack, Cassidy Giddens' Rapunzel, and the Mysterious Man portrayed by Trey Jackson.

All in all, it is a fantastic show. Even if you've seen "Into The Woods" a dozen times, you haven't seen one like this. If you haven't seen it, you should not waste any time buying your tickets!

That being said, it may not be the BEST show to take your younger kids to, so that's why Stage Center is also doing a two show run of "Into The Woods, Jr.," a much more kid friendly version without all of the second act...adultiness.

"Into The Woods" opens June 6th at 7:30 PM at Marjorie Lyons Playhouse on the campus of Centenary College.

THU-FRI-SAT, JUN 9-10-11 @ 7:30PM,
SUN, JUN 12 @ 3:00PM
THU-FRI, JUN 16-17 @ 7:30PM
SAT, JUN 18 @ 2:00PM & 7:30PM

Tickets: Adults/Seniors $20.00 | Students/Kids $15.00 (Click the link above for tickets.)

"Into The Woods, Jr." showtimes and tickets:

Schedule: SAT, JUN 18 @ 10:00AM
SUN, JUN 19 @ 2:00PM

Tickets: $10.00

...I wish.