REVIEW || Into the Woods’ captures the imagination

By Tracey D’Astolfo

SALEM — Fans of Stephen Sondheim’s dark and witty wordplay and music would be well-served in taking in Salem Community Theatre’s production of “Into the Woods.”

The musical is directed by Michael Dempsey, a New York-area theater professional and Salem native.

Dempsey demonstrates that he knows his Sondheim. With the help of mega-talented music director Jon Simsic, SCT’s “Woods” is a confident and sure-handed presentation, peopled by a uniformly solid cast that brings flair and individuality to each character.

The three-hour play (with intermission) does seem to flag early in the second act — especially after such a fun first half — but that’s no fault of the director. It’s inescapable, as the book (written by James Lapine) takes a lot of time to lay the groundwork for the life lessons it unearths.

“Into the Woods” deconstructs several Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Cinderella and her stepsisters, a couple of princes, Rapunzel, a childless baker and his wife, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and some other characters literally head into the woods — a metaphor for the tragic-heroic journey that life sometimes forces upon us. Their stories intertwine brilliantly in the dark and mysterious forest as the characters pursue their dreams.

By the time they come out, lessons are learned. To wit: Actions can lead to consequences that might not be so pleasant, so be careful what you wish for.

Salem productions are usually marked by their professional-looking sets and costumes, and ”Woods” is a perfect example. Take some time with the perspective in the forest backdrop; the realism had to take a lot of time and shows the theater’s devotion to detail.

Speaking of detail, director Dempsey uses wonderful gadgetry to bring the fairy tales to life, including a living tree and a silhouetted Grandma’s House where the wolf lies in wait.

Every cast member is tasked with blending musical-theater chops with a mythical character, and each succeeds with flying colors. They get to the core of each character’s primary motivation and then make it personal.

Praising the cast is a where-to-begin situation, but let’s start with Lauren Teminsky’s Little Red Riding Hood, just because the Canfield High School junior adds so much unexpected brassiness and fun to the role.

Rob Dumovic as the prince who woos Cinderella is sharply drawn, glibly charming and hilarious. But when he dons the wolf costume and mask, Dumovic creates a theater scene that will be remembered for a long time. His cartoonish movement — you can’t see his face — as the lascivious wolf brought a supernatural howl of delight to the audience.

Amanda Beagle is a vivacious and determined baker’s wife, who ranges from aggressive to subservient in pursuing what she wants (a baby). She also gets to employ her standout singing ability.

The cast also includes Amy Russell, who is marvelous as the evil witch (and a riveting rapper!); Josh Lewis as the humble and conflicted baker; Kelsey Crismon, innocent and pure as Cinderella; Dan Huston, right on as the simple Jack; Eric Kibler as the narrator and mysterious man in the forest; Susan Prosser as Jack’s mother; Lindsay Heath, who shrieks and sings as the unstable Rapunzel; the imperious Sarah Durham as the stepmother; Doug Mondell (Rapunzel’s prince); and Courtney Stewart and Connie Baer as the rotten stepsisters.

Also: Kari Langford (Cinderella’s mother); Dave Wack (the prince’s steward); Ralph Dumovic (Cinderella’s father); and Kathie Steeb and Natalie Ricciutti (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty).

X“Into the Woods” will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Aug. 21-22 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 16 and Aug. 23. The theater is at 490 E. State St., Salem. Call (330) 332-9688.

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