Fairy tales typically have a moral, and “Into the Woods” interweaves several such children’s stories. So, it seems appropriate that a review of Theatre Baton Rouge’s current production should have one, too.
The moral: When you cast a clever musical with superior voices, the result is a happy audience.
That may not be the most profound theatrical insight, but TBR’s directors have occasionally cast musicals as if acting skills somehow overcome the inability to sing the part. Thankfully, director Jason Bayle and music director Terry Bowman didn’t follow that formula. “Into the Woods” is filled with good to very good voices that make the solos and duets a treat and give great power to its choral numbers.
Some of these voices are also familiar faces to TBR patrons — Marion Bienvenu as Witch, Jason Dowies as Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince, Erin Woolworth as Jack’s Mother and Kaitlyn Stockwell as Baker’s Wife. But the cast also includes some first-timers and relative newcomers, with their performances adding a lot to this production.
Rachel Lorando has a sparkling voice and brings the right mixture of sweetness and indecisiveness to Cinderella. High school sophomore and TBR newbie Lauren Smith is similarly strong as the sometimes sweet, sometimes feisty Little Red Riding Hood. Enrico Cannella is both funny and fun to listen to as Rapunzel’s Prince, and his duets with Dowies in “Agony” and its reprise are hilarious. The duet of Carter Dean (Baker) and Stockwell in “It Takes Two” is another musical high moment.
The plot begins with familiar tales — stepchild Cinderella wanting to attend the festival, Jack having to sell his cow so the family won’t starve and Mr. and Mrs. Baker wanting a child. When the Witch reveals their infertility is caused by a curse she placed on the family and sends them on a quest for items she demands to remove it, they go into the woods.
There, they meet the other characters from various stories, and the plots merge into a life of their own. There is a lot of witty dialogue, spoken and sung.
Bienvenu is an excellent, sassy Witch, and newcomer Thomas Jackson brings another strong voice and touch of whimsy to the cast as Jack, of beanstalk fame. In limited opportunities as Cinderella’s Mother, Granny and Giant, Brandy Johnson is another standout singing talent, and Brittany Lynn Kriger is enjoyable as Rapunzel.
Scenic designer Kenneth Mayfield wasn’t asked to take a bow on opening night, but it would have been appropriate. This is one of TBR’s best visual productions in a long time. The set is centered by a rotating tower that alternates as a large tree and Rapunzel’s lookout, and the use of lighting and artificial fog creates an appropriately eerie atmosphere.
The two-act play runs a little short of three hours. With voices like these, it’s worth every minute.