Out of Woods to “Into the Woods”

Review of award winning Klein Oak’s Into the Woods

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Out of Woods to “Into the Woods”

Klein Oak Theatre presents Into the Woods and hands out new playbills designed by students.

Klein Oak Theatre presents Into the Woods and hands out new playbills designed by students.

Klein Oak Theatre presents Into the Woods and hands out new playbills designed by students.

Klein Oak Theatre presents Into the Woods and hands out new playbills designed by students.

I recently had the honor of getting to see the Tommy Tune award winning Klein Oak perform their last show in their auditorium. Klein Oak’s production of Into The Woods was the last drama performance in their auditorium for they will be building a new one very soon. While it was very cool to be a part of history, I felt the show ended before it even began due to the amount of times someone said or wrote that Into the Woods was the last drama production in the auditorium. That being said, it was a wonderful afternoon of theatre filled with music, magic and mayhem. 

Into the Woods is a musical following beloved story book characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk as well as a childless Baker and his wife. The story follows all of their journeys into the woods to get their happily ever after, and what they find in act one differs greatly from the dark turn of act two. 

When I walked into the auditorium I instantly felt I was going into the woods. The set was absolutely stunning. Everything from the trees, to the levels, to the detailed story books put me right into the story. Additionally, a great touch added, was in lieu of pre show music they played ambient woods sounds. It was very relaxing to wait for the show sitting in the comfy theater seats, staring at the beautiful trees and listening to the sounds of toads and rivers. It was a nice touch that I greatly appreciated.

The show opened on the traditional set up for Into The Woods depicting the main characters frozen in motifs in front of their storybooks that then became their homes. However, while this is a very standard way to stage the prologue, the director, Eric Domuret, seemed to have it so perfectly planned that it flowed like clockwork. Sadly, it seemed the perfection of movements caused the acting in the prologue to be sub-par. Additionally, the energy at the top of the show was fairly low and the little amount that radiated from Cinderella, the Bakers Wife, and Little Red seemed to fade into the sea of grey hair that one only sees at matinees. I feel if I saw a night show the energy might have been higher at the top, but sadly I saw a matinee and it honestly felt like a textbook matinee. It was disappointing. 

While the energy and acting quality was low at the top of the prologue, it seemed to pick up once the books were gone and the show started. It seemed the whole show was on a roller coaster of energy that started very low, but soon rose to be significantly better. With a show like Into the Woods, keeping the audience engaged is very important and it was hard to stay engaged when the energy was so low. There were several performers who seemed to notice the energy lull and tried to fix it. I found myself getting excited when they came out. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Little Red, played by Junior Lauren Clarke, who radiated energy and kept me laughing the whole show. Clarke truly made Little Red her own by adding a dark and scary side to her that I had not ever really seen in that character before. Bringing that new element in was so much fun to watch especially when she was engaging with Jack, played by Senior Ethan Perez. 

In addition to Little Red and Jack’s relationship, the Baker (Blaine Wiegand) and the Baker’s Wife’s relationship was very realistic and entertaining. Senior Lizzie Cooper’s Baker’s Wife somehow made me cry tears of laughter and sadness simultaneously. She played a quirky and relatable Baker’s Wife who the audience rooted for, even in act two. I looked forward to every entry of hers because of how entertaining she was.

Another point of the show that I enjoyed was the Princes’ entrances. It was brilliant how they broke the fourth wall and heard the music before singing agony. It was a moment in the show that had me laughing so hard. I love it when jokes come up in darker shows and add levity.

One major complaint I had about my afternoon In the woods, was the audience. While the audience was as dead as any other matinee audience, they seemed to rise from the dead to laugh at unnecessary times. There was a moment in “No One is Alone” where the beautiful voices of Little Red, Cinderella (Abigail Reed), Jack, and the Baker blend so perfectly as they discuss some heavy matters and I was almost in tears. I say almost because as soon as a tear was about to spill, the audience roared in laughter. The strangest comments made them laugh and It was kind of offending. 

Sonheim is arguably one of the hardest composers to sing in musical theatre, yet from my seat in Klein Oak’s historic auditorium I could not tell. These high school students sang Sondheim with more beauty, precision and skill than I have heard from even adults. I could tell the music was something that was drilled and worked to a pulp. While I enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the music, I fear inflection and acting was lost in some songs due to focus on the musicality of it. I loved so much when Cinderella’s prince (Andrew Kusman) had a voice crack in “Any Moment” for it added to the scene, his character and made the song more intriguing. I wish actors in this show took more risks with their songs and did not sing so beautifully. I am a huge fan of speaking some parts of songs when needed, or playing with dynamics. I feel the show would have been much more energized and entertaining if the music was treated less like choral pieces and more like monologues. 

A very strong moment of the show, in all aspects, was the act one finale. The choreography was simple and engaging and the music once more was perfect. Following that strong conclusion to act one, I expected act two to begin just as strong. However, it started with a technical difficulty that worried and confused the audience. The lights went down and the auditorium fell silent as we all awaited to journey back into the woods, yet nothing happened. The stage had an eerie lack of movement and no music began. My worry and confusion soon became irritation as I started to count. Almost exactly 90 seconds after I started counting, act two started. Due to the perfect timing of it all, it almost seemed intentional. However, if it was an intentional directorial choice it did not appear justified and simply caused the audience to turn uneasy.

Act two began eventually and I was once again thrust into an aesthetically pleasing world of fantasy and conflict. However, while the conflict in act two is traditionally the giant, it seemed in Klein Oak’s version the villain was a tree branch. An obnoxiously large tree branch laid on the ground up center stage as part of the decor. It was not a distraction, until it began getting stuck to costumes. I watched in nervous anticipation as it was swept all over the stage by the Witch’s cape and as Cinderella’s bare feet were scraped by it. Actors attempted to remove it from the stage, but it would just break into more pieces and cause more problems. While the set was stunning, I fear in act two it truly was the source of all agony.  

While the mesmerizing set sucked me into the woods, the intricate costuming kept me focused on each individual story. Every single costume in the show was well thought out, beautiful and almost magical. One of my favorite costumes in the whole show was the Witch’s act two outfit which was not anything like the obnoxiously large dress Bernadette Peters wore on Broadway. This cape and tight legging combination gave the Witch more power than any ball gown could. I especially enjoyed watching the Witch use the cape when moving. It sent shivers down my spine and made me want to applaud.

All in all, my trip into the woods was well worth the price of admission. It was truly an enchanting way to spend my Saturday. While there were a few minor things that frustrated me or I wish could have gotten fixed, it does not change the fact that this cast and crew effectively told a beautiful and moving story and they should be very proud of themselves. I feel these things would not have gotten under my skin so much if I had not seen their Tommy Tune award winning musical Bright Star last year. I fear I walked in with extremely high standards in addition to knowing the show backwards and forwards. I had to remind myself numerous times that this was a high school show, for I constantly felt it was a professional show. I wish I could have seen it again for it was truly amazing. I cannot wait to see their next show for I know it will be even better. Klein Oak once again put on a true theatrical masterpiece and I am so happy I got to see it.

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