Monday, December 18, 2017
Stage

Review: 'Into the Woods' starts new tour at a pleasant if meandering walk

TAMPA — The unmistakable imprint of Stephen Sondheim shines through from the prologue of Into the Woods, in which fairy tale characters confess their deepest desires.

Cinderella wants to attend the ball. A simple boy named Jack, known for the beanstalk he unwittingly planted, only wants his cow to produce milk. A baker and his wife wish for a child.

Their interrelated needs unfold deep in the midst of a comforting and sometimes terrifying forest, set once upon a time and today. Sondheim's musical, for which James Lapine wrote the book, debuted on Broadway in 1987, winning Tony Awards in a field that included Phantom of the Opera. A new national tour opened its first stop this week at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. This is a serious effort to capture the humor and humanity of a unique musical.

At its best, the production highlights tender and whimsical tales about fragile hopes meeting an indifferent world and learning to live with the consequences. A charming transparency marks it, with actors doubling as stage musicians. Individual performances elevate the show and limit it, just as touring musicals attract both seasoned performers who could use the work and actors who need seasoning.

It's not the tour's fault that Freefall Theatre did the show two years ago in its far more intimate setting or that its version ran like a Swiss watch.

But the comparison is inevitable against the cavernous Morsani Theater, built to handle massive productions. In this setting, actors sometimes kept the show's brisk pace at the expense of diction, which is critical for keeping up with numerous interlocking tales.

The big-stage version also grinds subtler moments underfoot in favor of slapstick. They play up a drunken Rapunzel, the prolonged belch of a cow and gallop a broom-handled horse gag into the ground. A lot of jokes seemed tailored to children not in the audience. A full house did not laugh so often as listen attentively.

No question, Sondheim's songs were mostly rendered well by capable singers. But that alone does not a production make.

Fortunately, enough of those performers rose to the task to carry the message home. Anthony Chatmon II made for a devilish prince as well as Little Red Riding Hood's wolf (Hello, Little Girl), just one example of the show's intentional character doubling that gives it an extra dimension. Bonne Kramer (who attended Tampa's Blake High) applied herself to the role of Cinderella's stepmother like a coat of nail polish, while also performing Jack's mother and playing the bassoon.

The linchpin of this show — and the musical itself — is the witch (played by Meryl Streep in a Disney film adaptation), and here Vanessa Reseland elevates the entire cast. Reseland delivers humor and pathos while enunciating every syllable, bringing all of the show's strengths together in a climactic moment with The Last Midnight.

In the end, the story with its meandering twists both celebrates and undermines all fairy tales and finds threads to the audience with those messages. We compromise our values under stress, we give the wrong advice, we lose our way. These elements, woven together by a brilliant composer, are the reason Into the Woods has been revived many times since its debut, explaining the launch of another national tour, with more surely to come.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

The theatrical tour about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. that Tavis Smiley was slated to bring to Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has been canceled in the wake sexual misconduct allegations against the broadcaster.Death...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
The Phantom never dies, orchestra doings this week

The Phantom never dies, orchestra doings this week

PHANTOM REDUX: LOVE NEVER DIESTurns out, the Phantom survived that angry mob. We know that because the antihero of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera re-emerges in the 2010 sequel, Love Never Dies.It opens in 1907 New York, w...
Published: 12/13/17
Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull.His voice doesn’t grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster. Shy win...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

ST. PETERSBURG — In some ways, the Florida Orchestra’s gala with Sting looked like other concerts of a mega-star. Most of the fans who packed the Mahaffey Theater bought their tickets the day they went on sale. They cheered and sang along at the open...
Published: 12/10/17
What’s on stage this week: Florida Orchestra happy hour concerts are back, Book of Mormon lottery

What’s on stage this week: Florida Orchestra happy hour concerts are back, Book of Mormon lottery

BACK ON TAP: HAPPY HOUR CONCERTSWith an opening year on the books, it looks like Happy Hour Concerts are here to stay. The Florida Orchestra figured last year it was time to create a user-friendly atmosphere geared to 9-to-5 commuters who could use t...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Live Oak Theatre Company presents Christmas show Dec. 15-16 in Brooksville

Live Oak Theatre Company presents Christmas show Dec. 15-16 in Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — Singing Christmas carols, listening to stories while sitting in front of the fireplace, watching twinkling Christmas lights. For many, these are the feelings that trigger memories of Christmases past.Such memories will be reignited when...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/09/17
Musical take on miserly classic

Musical take on miserly classic

Photo courtesy of Jimmy FerraroThe new Millennium Theatre Company will present a musical production of What in the Dickens Happened To Scrooge? weekends, Dec. 9-17, at 10005 Ridge Road, New Port Richey. Show times are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17
How to get $25 tickets to ‘Book of Mormon’ at the Straz Center

How to get $25 tickets to ‘Book of Mormon’ at the Straz Center

The Book of Mormon’s producers have made lower-priced tickets possible for a few lucky fans.To win a $25 ticket (that’s less than half of the starting price for seats), it’s safest to show up two and a half hours before curtain. One lottery entry per...
Published: 12/05/17
Orchestra delivers a stirring Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2

Orchestra delivers a stirring Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2

TAMPA — Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy a concert. I mean really, you can work yourself to death trying to figure out every nuance, as a critic or music aficionado. I don’t think Sergei Rachmaninoff, who described music as nonverbal po...
Updated one month ago
Our music critics wonder, how will Sting mesh with the Florida Orchestra?

Our music critics wonder, how will Sting mesh with the Florida Orchestra?

I was working construction the year Roxanne peaked on the Billboard charts and was playing all the time. With some of the more monotonous jobs, such as grading slabs, the radio is an important part of getting through it. I wasn’t into the Polic...
Updated one month ago