Theater Review: When in the woods, tales get tangled up

05/21/2014 8:49 AM |
Alexis Monetti (from left), Kristen Alestra and Matt Senese in a scene from "Into the Woods" at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Alexis Monetti (from left), Kristen Alestra and Matt Senese in a scene from “Into the Woods” at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

“Once upon a time” is a phrase filled with the promise of adventure, thrills, true love, lessons learned and happy endings. And so begins “Into the Woods,” a musical that combines numerous well-known fairy tales into its own unique story that offers all of the above and more.

If you have never seen “Into the Woods,” written by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, you need to catch North Fork Community Theatre’s current production. If you have seen it and are a fan, as I am, you won’t want to miss the chance to enjoy it once again.

As first-time director Brett Chizever notes in the program, like all good fairy tales the musical “contains light and dark themes working as a metaphor for our own personal lives and journeys: what wishes we make, the consequences of wishes coming true, the paths we choose to go down, as well as love, loss and community responsibility.”

Mr. Chizever, a talented actor, has put his extensive on-stage experience to good use in his transition to director. Aside from pulling off a great job of casting — a key factor for success — he has molded his actors together into a tight ensemble with excellent timing, chemistry and charm. It will be interesting to watch his growth over future productions, of which I suspect there will be many.

The first act is a retelling and reworking of three basic fairy tales — Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood — along with the story of a Baker and the Baker’s Wife. Each character harbors a desperate desire and things seem to resolve themselves by the end of the act. The second act explores the consequences of “happily ever after.”

Isabelle Alvarez was winsome and touching as Cinderella, who wishes to go to the ball like her stepsisters, and Patrick O’Brien was charming as the goofy and not-too-bright Jack, who trades his beloved cow for a handful of beans. Ella Watts played the not-so-innocent but adorable Little Red Riding Hood with a wink and a nod. She turns out to be a worthy opponent for the Wolf, played by Devin Lily with bawdy humor. Mr. Lily also plays Cinderella’s Prince and shares some hilarious scenes with Nate Kalich as Rapunzel’s Prince. These two princes are not the usual fairy tale heroes and they provide some particularly ironic laughs during the reprise of their song “Agony.”

The Witch, who represents humanity’s moral ambivalence, is played with swagger and punch by Alexis Monetti. Her powerful voice suited the sweet ballad, belted solo and ensemble piece.

In a cast of bright talent, two stand out just a bit more for me. Matt Senese and Kristen Alestra were perfectly paired as the Baker and his Wife. Each offered a multi-layered performance beyond the caricature and both sang like pros.

As mentioned before, the rest of the cast was fantastic: Manning Dandridge as the Narrator, David Markel as the Mysterious Man, Gabrielle Comanda as Rapunzel, Mary Motto Kalich as Little Red’s Grandmother, Nancy DiGirolamo as Stepmother, Colleen Kelly as Florinda, Raven Janoski as Lucinda, Laura Pearsall as Jack’s Mother, Matt Eager as Cinderella’s Father, Priscilla Lewis as Cinderella’s Mother and Snow White, Peter Nolan as the Steward and Jen Eager as the Giant and Sleeping Beauty.

The production team — musical director William Roslak, producer Mary Motto Kalich, set and costume designer Lori Connolly, choreographer Jenna Kavaler and lighting designers Charlie Scheer and David Scheer — all deliver top-notch work on this show. The sum of their efforts, added to Mr. Chizever’s guidance, equals a well-balanced, satisfying and extremely entertaining production that is not to be missed.

‘Into the Woods’
North Fork Community Theatre
12700 Old Sound Ave., Mattituck
Performances continue Thursdays to Sundays through June 1. For tickets, call 298-6328 or visit nfct.org.

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