I have always wanted to see the complicated Stephen Sondheim musical 'Into the Woods,' but I missed the recent production in Westport. So I decided to drive to the Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, celebrating their 55th season, to catch the version running through October 13. This lovely little theatre used to be a school gymnasium but now sports chandeliers hanging in the vaulted ceiling. Open seating allowed me to find a great aisle seat to view this wonderful production.
The music of Sondheim is tricky at best, but the pieces in this dark fairy tale with a book by James Lapine are extremely challenging. Except for the occasional starting note given by the musical director Sabrina Post on piano, the beautiful accompaniment gives singers little help with their melody. Even the actor who plays the role of the Baker Ralph Papp writes of his "I hate Sondheim" mantra in his bio. Yet each and every member of this cast rose to the challenge and the ensemble pieces were absolutely perfect.
The set designed by Duane Langenwaiter featured hanging panels in sepia tones that could be lit to be transparent. It was very effective and the lighting on the whole was excellent. The costumes were designed by Cindy Tyler and ranged from appropriate to amazing. The ensemble that Marilyn Olsen wears as the first act Witch is a masterpiece of costuming. She and the Wolf sported impressive masks; some wigs were very well done, others not so much.
This is a strong cast that includes actors from the area. Ms. Olsen leads the cast in one of her personal favorite roles of the Witch. She is both scary and funny and vocally amazing. I couldn't take my eyes off her. She has been recently chosen to play the lead role of Norma Desmond in the upcoming Warner Theatre production of Sunset Boulevard. Mr. Papp is also strong in the key role of the Baker. Young Robert Bassett is loveable as Jack (and the Beanstalk) and Danbury High School senior Sydney Coelho is a feisty Little Red (Riding Hood.) Amy Crupi is a hired vocalist for the local Funkeeboy Studios and shines vocally and dramatically as Cinderella. Joe Harding as the Narrator lends his wonderful speaking voice to the role, while Kira A. Wallace is delightful as the Baker's Wife. Both princes are great, and Mensah Robinson doubles as the Wolf. Karen Robinson and Janice Gabriel (Executive Director of Musicals at Richter) are a riot as Cinderella's stepsisters.
Director Maureen Trotto makes effective use of this beautiful space and Todd Santamaria's choreography adds another effective element. This show is not a happily ever after fairy tale, but I was so glad for the opportunity to see such a fine production as this. Experience this wonderful show in a unique venue before it closes.