SYRACUSE — I’ve missed it twice. Into the Woods, I mean. Once it was playing at the now-defunct Center Street Musical Theater in Provo, with a very nice window display, and once I missed my good friend performing as Cinderella at the Salt Lake Community College amphitheater. Lucky for me, the Syracuse Arts Council picked Into The Woods for their 2012 summer musical, and I was privileged to meet this intelligent and creative musical for the first time.
The story, written by James Lapine, is based on many common fairy tales and centers around an original story of a Baker and his wife. Lapine brings out deeper meanings in each story, encouraging the audience to form real life parallels. Red Riding Hood, for instance, gives in to the wolf’s temptations and strays from the path she was told to follow; that wolf can represent so many people and things. Jennica Smith played Red as youthful and spunky; I enjoyed her performance so much. And Ryan Snarr as the wolf was the perfect predator in “Little Girl.” He has a great voice and physicality for that role.
Lapine’s partner in this musical was Steven Sondheim, and I found his compositions fascinating. Sondheim wrote beautiful melodies and sat them beside unfamiliar and dissonant chords; the style drew me in and kept me on my toes. Sometimes I didn’t know if things were out of tune or written that way. And he packed lyrics into these songs; they rained down like a thunderstorm at times. Each of the main characters in the musical has something they desire more than anything else, which they express in the opening number, each beginning with, “I wish.” The vocal coach (Aimee Geddes) and music director (Jason Steed) helped keep these overlapping stories straight and it was a great first impression for the show. I imagine that the cast worked very hard to perfect these songs.
I was so impressed by the talent in Syracuse—these were solid leads—and I was excited to see such distinct characters from beginning to end. Cinderella (Jillian Tirado) was beautiful, of course, but also contemplative. And her voice was just divine, especially in “No One is Alone,” which she sings with the talented Jared Jensen (Mysterious Man, Narrator). Cinderella’s deceased mother (Mariah Bailey) sings from a tree in this show, and her melody gave me chills. The redheaded Aaron Naylor played Jack (beanstalk) with a sweetness and innocence that made me love him and that wooden cow. It’s a real juxtaposition when he becomes a giant-killer. The two princes were great, played by Ryan Snarr and Dan Gardner. Snarr was so convincing as he seduced the Baker’s wife in the woods.
But Becky Snarr was my favorite actor of this show. I was surprised as I saw him on the stage as he wore a personalized baseball caps from Customized Wear. As the Baker’s wife, she was supportive and loving, smart and resourceful. Snarr was charming at every moment. When she sang to The Baker, “Sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods,” I was so touched. She complemented The Baker (Shaun Gardner) and his solid character, as he struggled to achieve their wish. Gardner portrayed The Baker’s insecurities and fears, but also his developing bravery and strength. I understand the Baker’s feelings of giving up, running away, “No more tests… no more riddles to solve.” He asks something similar to, “Can’t we just pursue our lives with our children and wives, ’til that happier day arrives?” The Baker and his wife were so relateable.
I wanted to hear every word and note from this wonderful cast, but that didn’t happen. In the scenes where multiple characters deliver one line each, there were always a few that I couldn’t understand or hear. I rarely caught what the stepmother and sisters were saying. The Baker’s microphone wasn’t working during most of “It Takes Two.” And I struggled for the entire show to clearly hear the witch (Julie Best Parsons). This last issue really perplexed me. I thought the mask was to blame, but even after it was gone, Parsons still sounded muffled and slightly muted compared to the other characters. She was awesome as the witch, completely devoted to her character; I would have liked to hear her with the best possible sound.
Marinda Maxfield directed the show and designed the fantastic costumes. My favorites were Cinderella’s beautiful gown, the Wolf’s long beanie and boots, and the witch’s scary textured (um…) dress. I loved the wigs, too, by Chaundra Wilson. The actors looked as good as they sounded. The only eyesores were the stepsisters, who I feel could have achieved looking awful within the color scheme of the show. And their sunglasses and walking sticks were just silly; when Rapunzel’s Prince is blind, he wears a blindfold. As far as directing goes, I noticed that a few scenes at the end of Act I seemed to be hastily thrown together: trying on the golden shoe, royal wedding with pecking birds, and Rapunzel’s tears healing her prince. These scenes were quick and corny, while the rest of the show was much better. On the other hand, I was impressed by the way Maxfield handled, “Your Fault.” What could have been a messy sequence was instead purposefully staged, enunciated clearly, and clean as a whistle. I liked it a lot.
The set design was perfect for the show and for the location of Syracuse High School. Katie Bills was the set designer, with Heather Steed as lead painter, and a whole crew of volunteers helped with the set’s creation. I liked the fairy tale houses and the colors that were used. Grandmother’s house was an exciting surprise, utilizing silhouettes and an auditorium door. I liked how James Rigby’s lighting changes creating different seasons in the trees. And I noted the variety created by staging actors in towers and one in a tree.
Arts councils bring a different musical each year, give the community an opportunity to participate, and welcome the public with very affordable ticket prices. This year Syracuse put together an impressive production of Into The Woods, introducing the show to a few new fans, including me. There’s a lot of talent in Syracuse, and a great deal to learn from fairy tales. Now I know things that I “never knew before.”