BEACON FALLS — Sports enthusiasts colloquially refer to Woodland Regional High School as “the Woods,” so it appears theater director Susan Cinoman’s latest selection, “Into the Woods,” a dark and surreal musical stitching together various Grimm fairy tales, was at least name-appropriate.
Cinoman concedes the production’s gloomy nature and biting dialogue might be a different story.
“We’ve tried to cater this show to the community,” Cinoman admits before Friday’s show, a preview performance of Saturday’s main event. “It’s dark, normally; our adaptation lightens it a little bit.”
She is beset by last-minute production concerns before I can press for details.
“Into the Woods,” written by James Lapine, with music and lyrics by West Side Story lyricist Steven Sondheim, has two acts. The Woodland production tackled only the first, which ends on a sugary note of “happily ever after,” and clocks in at about 45 minutes.
Cinoman led a cast of 24 WRHS students, including such deranged but ultimately humorous characters as a devilishly-grinning werewolf sporting purple coattails (played by Michael Torselli), an unproductive cow named Milky White (Jake Brown) and Rapunzel’s overprotective, enchantress stepmother (Cassie Wolanski).
It’s not easy to discern a central plot from the production, but by appearances, a number of fairy tale characters—Rapunzel (Mary Fitzgerald) and her stepmother, Cinderella (Lauren Tremaglio), Little Red Riding Hood (Kelsey Correia), Jack of the beanstalk story (Ryan Romanski) and so on—embark on various quests which lead them all into the woods, where, they think, there’s nothing to fear, because “the light is good.”
A poor baker (Dan Lyons) and his wife (Heather Strandholt), whose barrenness is a byproduct of a curse only the stepmother can reverse, tie them all together. The stepmother needs the proper alchemic ingredients to counteract the hex: “the cow as white as milk,” which belongs to Jack, who traverses the forest with a mind to sell the forlorn Milky White; “the cape as red as blood,” which belongs to Little Red Riding Hood; “the hair as yellow as corn,” which was under the stepmother’s nose the entire time; and “the slipper as pure as gold,” which Cinderella ultimately provides. Upon lifting the curse, the stepmother exclaims exuberantly, “Finally, I can get that rhinoplasty I always wished for!”
It’s precisely jokes like that one which lent an air of comedy and lightheartedness to the stageplay. The actors delivered their lines in a humorous, conversational singsong, presented some fun sight gags, postured a bit of physical humor, and charmed the audience with clever turns of phrase written into the songs and dialogue.
At the start of the second act (which is really a sub-act of the original production’s first), two lovelorn princes (Ryan McVeigh and Ryan Frechette)—who delivered arguably the strongest musical performance later in the show—galloped through the auditorium and leapt onto the stage, imploring the audience to help them find their respective objects of desire.
“Which way did they go?” one pleaded. Attendees pointed and explained, but to no avail.
“Oh, what the hell do they know?” the other spat, defeated, inspiring a peal of laughter.
The production was clearly a challenge for the students; some singers occasionally struggled to hit the key of a song—then again, at Friday’s performance, there were some problems with the sound balance, as the music track at times drowned out the actors’ voices entirely. But it was obvious that the songs were not easy to sing, and Cinoman said the music was the hardest aspect of the play.
But that’s why the troupe is called the Woodland Experimental Theater, she said: “We try to do things that might be out of our scope, or a little more challenging,” she noted, adding that on the whole, “we adapt and compress stories to suit whatever casting we have.”
The group had put on two productions before “Into the Woods”: “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and “West Verona Story,” a stageplay Cinoman wrote, which marries the music of “West Side Story” with the Shakespearean narrative of “Romeo and Juliet.”