By Julia Larson // Contributing Writer
The Murfreesboro Center for the Arts’ production of Into The Woods, directed by Renee Robinson, is running through Jan. 31. The show follows the lives of several down-on-their-luck fairytale characters as they venture into the woods to find the things they wish for the most. But of course, evil witches and giants get in the way, and hijinks ensue! This local production captures the magic and whimsy that creates the fairytale world of Stephen Sondheim’s dreams.
When I first arrived at the Center for the Arts, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Into the Woods is a very big show, and the stage seemed a bit small to handle the load. Musicals from Sondheim, the creator of Into the Woods, are also notoriously difficult for singers and musicians. I was skeptical, but ready to be blown away — and I was.
From the evil Witch and the hungry Wolf to the smarmy Prince Charming and a switchblade-wielding Red Riding Hood, this show has no shortage of colorful characters. The actors gave life to these whimsical characters in a very real way. They were authentic, relatable and expressed just the right amount of fairytale without being cartoonish. I also applaud the chemistry between the characters of the Baker (Patrick Kramer) and the Baker’s Wife (Alexius Frost). These two brought such a special bond to their characters that it made their relationship all the more believable.
As I mentioned before, Sondheim musicals are notoriously difficult pieces, especially Into the Woods. It’s fast-paced with lots of words, and the vocal parts often jump all over the place. These guys nailed it. Although parts with lots of characters singing over one another was difficult to decipher at times, the vocal talent of the actors was obvious. Kramer, Frost, Sarah Oppmann (Red Riding Hood) and Emily Davis (Cinderella) were especially talented, and I loved every moment they were singing.
The one downfall of this show was its special effects. It’s hard to create literal magic on stage, and they did do their best, but the shock and awe of a few climactic moments fell a little short due to some rather lame effects. However, the effects were well rehearsed and executed smoothly which helped ease the awkwardness. The set design for the show was minimal but very effective. With an impressive backdrop and a few well-placed fabric trees, the set design gave off that shadowy and dim eeriness of the woods. Leaving most of the stage open allowed for the actors to make use of every inch of the stage they had. Kudos to Robinson for creating and executing a vision for the show that allowed it to work so successfully on a smaller stage.
The best part of this production, by far, was the obvious joy and passion that the performers had for what they were doing. Whatever the show lacked in big flashy special effects, it made up for in the love for what they were doing that each person brought to the stage. Every person was excited to tell the story and share their characters with the audience.
In today’s cinematic world where movie makers will spend millions of dollars making extravagant CGI shots that look as big and realistic as possible, that extravagance causes the story to lose a bit of character. We focus so hard on the suspension of belief that it begins to feel unbelievable. This show was a breath of fresh air in the midst of extremes we come to expect from our entertainment. The passion from everyone involved in the show gave it character and a magic of it’s own. If you have the chance to go on this journey into the woods, take it.
Into the Woods can be seen at the Center for the Arts at 110 West College St., Murfreesboro, Tenn. It is running Fridays-Sundays until Jan. 31.