CEDAR CITY — If you’re looking for a journey that is both familiar and unique, filled with laughter, tears, and equal parts frivolity and poignancy, then it’s time to venture Into the Woods with the cast of SimonFest in Cedar City.
Written by James Lapine, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, this unique take on several classic fairy tales comes with even more unique twists at the hand of director Rebekah Bugg as she incorporates an Asian feel into the costuming and set design that makes this unlike any other version of this popular musical. Her rationale, as explained in the director’s note, comes from her own experience growing up with a blend of cultures as a “Hapa” — the Hawaiian word for a person of multiracial ancestry. In her mind, everything from fairytales to holiday customs were a combination of eastern and western cultures, and she was thrilled to bring that imaginative blend to the stage with this production.
Overall, the concept was executed well. The large Asian fans brought beautiful colors to some of the otherwise understated set pieces, and certain costume pieces were absolutely enhanced by the richness of the culture. For example, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape could not have been more beautiful with its bold colors and rich brocade fabric. However, the mishmash costuming style was, at times, a little distracting. The Asian-infused elements were often paired with oddly modern touches — such as with the Stepmother’s shoes that looked like Converse tennis shoes (or some close approximation), and Cinderella’s Prince’s pants that felt like a nod to the early 2000s skinny jeans trend. While this amalgamation of styles may have been intentional, it felt a little hodge-podge. That said, costume designer Jaimee Markham should certainly be commended for the aforementioned Little Red Riding Hood cape, as well as the costumes for The Witch (played by Tamara Reber) which were all beautiful.
In most productions, the spotlight is there to shine on the most impressive thing happening on stage at any given time. But in this case, it was the lighting itself, designed by Dylan Frank, that really shined; enhancing every moment on stage and pulling the audience into the woods from the moment they entered the auditorium. In addition, the lighting concepts helped to fill the space of the stage in a way that set pieces could not and served as an intriguing element in the overall storytelling style. Taking their place in these beautifully designed lights is a cast of talented characters who filled their roles with energy and enthusiasm, with only a few opening night jitters.
Coming in strong with one of the evening’s standout performances was Tamara Reber’s version of The Witch. Her vocal talent brought forth a moving rendition of “Stay with Me” and “Last Midnight” and she was able to command the stage as both the hunched and withered form of her character, as well as the young and beautiful woman revealed as the show goes on.
Little Red Riding Hood, played by Juliet Lorentzen, was the perfect combination of spunk and silliness, while Blake Dunn’s performance as Jack was positively endearing. And Douglas Hill performed excellently going back and forth between his post as the narrator for the show, as well as the Mysterious Man.
The pairing of Lincoln Stone as The Baker and Sadie Stone as The Baker’s Wife proved to be a beautiful one. Their on-stage chemistry was excellent, as one might expect from a real-life couple, but they are also to be praised for their strong vocal presence on numbers like “It Takes Two”, as well as Lincoln’s contribution to “No One Is Alone” along with Kristina Harding as Cinderella.
While the entire cast held their own vocally as individuals, when it came to some of the duets and group numbers, there is still some work to be done. The ability to blend as an ensemble seemed elusive on opening night, and although their voices were strong, the timing was a little off on duets like “Agony” by Tyson Chanticleer as Cinderella’s Prince and Dan Fowlks as Rapunzel’s Prince. Sadly, some microphone issues kept the audience from hearing as much of Chanticleer’s solo as the Wolf, but his physical performance in that role was very well done.
With all the talent and unique elements this production has to offer, it is well worth the time to wander Into the Woods, with the strong possibility of leaving feeling “Happily Ever After.”