Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

UWM Theatre: “Into the Woods”

On Saturday night the 10th, we had tickets for UW-Milwaukee’s production of Steven Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” After tea at the Allis Museum, we went home to change for the evening (hey, doesn’t everyone?) and then headed back to the east side. Finding the venue felt like being back at the Edinburgh fringe. At the Kenilworth Building, we entered from the alley side, and met a guide who directed us to the elevator to the 5th floor. From the elevator lobby, it was down a corridor.

The performance space was a “theatre lab,” which works out to be a “black box”, in this case set up to seat about 100 people. The stage area was about 30 X 30 feet, with no sets and very few props. The student cast nevertheless made excellent use of the space, concentrating on the storytelling and the character interaction.

It had been a very long time since we had seen this show, and I was reminded both how tightly rhymed and clever Sondheim’s lyrics were, and how intricately James Lapine had managed to interweave the stories of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Red Riding Hood, into a plot that deals in a very grown-up fashion with the consequences of desire and the fact that one person’s “happily ever after” may be another’s tragedy.

This production was a collaboration between the Theatre, Music, and Dance departments, and worked out very well. A small musical combo consisting of keyboard, trumpet, clarinet, flute and horn, filled the space nicely and supported the singing without drowning out. Singing was uniformly good, strong, intelligible, and in tune. There were no really remarkable voices in the cast, but then, Sondheim seldom requires very pretty singing—it is more important that the sense get across, which it did here, very well.

Acting was very good overall, with standout performances in the critical roles of the Baker (Kyle Sternad) and his Wife (Lisa Bultman) working through their many emotional upheavals; and Christopher MacGregor very good as Jack, portraying the naïve but clever young man who gets out of his depth. Kelly Cline gave a touching performance as Cinderella, who is guilty of nothing more than wanting a brief change from her wretched life, but ends up being the one responsible person left when everything goes to smash. Raven Dockery gave a strong performance in the vital role of the Witch, dominating the stage most of the time when she was on, but lacked a bit of nuanced knowingness that would have added depth to the character.

If there was one drawback to the production, it was the zero budget for costumes, which meant that what appeared was a modern-era hodgepodge out of (I suspect) the cast’s own closets—but that was ignorable once you got into the show. I did feel that the Wolf needed some help with his makeup—he looked more like an escapee from “Cats” than anything canine. But, given those quibbles, it was a fine show, and we enjoyed it very much.

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Tags: theatre
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