Sailing 'Into the Woods'

The Baltimore Sun

For the next two weekends, midshipmen will display teamwork and discipline along with performance artistry when they present Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, a fully staged, costumed and choreographed production with a live pit orchestra, in the annual Naval Academy Winter Musical.

The cast will venture into the challenging realm of the 1987 musical that brought Sondheim a Tony award for his score and a Tony to James Lapine for his book.

Into the Woods brings adult dimensions to familiar fairy tale characters who deal with the threatening environment they've helped to create. Central to this story are a Baker and his Wife who attempt to end their state of childlessness. On their quest they encounter such fairy tale characters as Cinderella, Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Jack the Giant Killer and his Beanstalk-hating Mother, and Rapunzel. All are looking for ever-after happiness, and by the end of the first act all have found what they wished for. Happily ever-after, though, is only the beginning of everybody's problems in the second act.

Lapine's book is filled with complex subplots, and Sondheim's melodies are hauntingly complex and wedded to his brilliantly ambivalent lyrics. Into the woods where nothing's clear, where witches, ghosts and wolves appear. Into the woods and through the fear, you have to take the journey.

The journey proved fascinating at Monday's rehearsal at the Academy's Mahan Hall, where cast members delivered their lines with gusto and the 19-member pit orchestra under the direction of Monte Maxwell (now in his 13th year as music department chairman) sounded comfortably at home with the score.

At a rehearsal, Director Lois Evans, who for the past five years has directed the Naval Academy musicals, noted the challenges of this show.

"The sophistication and eccentricity of these stories interweaving with the music give Into the Woods an adult complexity that isn't apparent in the other musicals and requires more dedication and concentration on the part of everyone involved," Evans said. "Given the complexity and time constraints of Naval Academy life, this isn't easily accomplished. This is a very difficult show to do vocally, instrumentally and technically."

Such difficulties hardly fazed this hardy young cast, who skipped through the woods in graceful choreographed precision. Vocally they became a robust harmonizing ensemble singing, Into the woods, without delay, but careful not, to lose the way. Into the woods, who knows what may, be lurking on the journey. Fairy tale characters became instantly recognizable as they sprang to life. Junior Hillary Ross created a vocally beguiling Cinderella. Sophomore Susannah Stokes conjured up a mystical Rapunzel, who sang from her home high in the tall tree. Sophomore Stephanie Wexler summoned an enchanting fearsome Witch who seemed on the verge of becoming gorgeous, as she told the Baker that, although "I laid a little spell that your family tree would always be a barren one," she might arrange "a curse reversed."

Sophomore Sylvia Kilburn becomes a commanding presence as Jack's Mother, telling Jack, "I don't care how you sell the cow. You have to face the marketplace." Freshman Anthony Maldonado easily captures Jack's consternation as he incredulously responds, "to sell a friend?"

Also capturing the essence of her character, Freshman Virginia Freeman conveys a zestful search for adventure as Red Riding Hood on the way to Grandmother's house, cheerfully greeting the deliciously seductive, voracious Mr. Wolf played by sophomore Peter Pappalardo.

Perhaps most noteworthy in rehearsal performance was senior Billy Strobel, who was last year's leading man Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls and returns in another leading role here as the Baker. Not being outshone was Junior Tabitha Gant as the Baker's Wife.

This rehearsal gave every indication that the Naval Academy Winter Musical tradition will be enhanced with this production scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., Feb. 27 through March 8, at Mahan Hall. For more information, 410-293-2439, and for tickets, 410-293-8497.

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