Does it make a sound?

By Mary C. Cusack

Strong elements lost in ‘Woods’ plot, audio issues

One thing is obvious seeing “Into the Woods” for the first time: This is a big production. It’s a grandiose story that requires a big stage and a big cast with big voices and big movements. Director Rick Dethlefsen took on quite a challenge producing this show at Lansing’s Riverwalk Theatre.

“Into the Woods," with music and lyrics by Steven Sondheim and book by James Lapine, is a fractured fairy tale that turns into a dark cautionary tale. Act 1 mashes the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, throwing in a few extra characters to tie it all together. At the center of this is a witch who manipulates a baker and his wife into trekking into the scary woods to find ingredients for a spell that will return her beauty and youth.

Act 2 turns a little bizarre, focusing on the unplanned repercussions of getting everything you want. Overall, the script’s tone is uneven, and what begins as a cute farce ends up a preachy buzzkill.

To pull off the challenging balance, the cast must be fully committed to their roles, and for the most part, this is a committed bunch.

Abigail English shows off her clear, strong pipes as Cinderella, and she moves her character through a range of emotional stages.

Amanda Himebaugh excels at another stalker-movie staple: the ear-piercing shriek. Annoying yet impressive, it is another example of commitment to character.

One of the most skilled performances comes from Chad DeKatch, as the Wolf. He captures the subtlety and big physical humor of his role, slickly balancing the physical and sexual hunger implications of the song “Hello Little Girl” from behind his latex mask.

Evan Pinsonnault, moonlighting from his day job as a TV news anchorman on WLNS, plays the Baker with such a Jimmy Stewart vibe that one keeps expecting him to cry out “Zuzu’s petals!” Pinsonnault’s gangly physicality is aided by a perfect peasant costume, complete with highwater yokel pants. The team of LeAnn Dethlefsen, Lark Burger, Chris Kennedy and Diane Wing did a fine job costuming the large cast, most of who have multiple costumes.

Joe Dickson and Richard Chapman’s lighting is excellent, and the backdrop of the set evokes the foreboding atmosphere of the woods. However, this is a big show, and the stage limits the action. The necessity to move characters to different parts of the stage means they often exit in opposite directions, even when pursuing each other.

The play can still be enjoyed despite spatial limitations, but one thing that can’t be written off is the poor sound, which leaves lines of dialogue and song lost. “Into the Woods” has a complex story, and a lost line or two is enough to cause confusion about why the heck all of these people are running around in the woods.

’Into the Woods’

Sept. 20 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Riverwalk Theatre,
228 Museum Drive, Lansing $18/$20 (517) 482-5700