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Sunset brings a bundle of talent ‘Into the Woods’

Read Marilyn Jozwik’s review of : INTO THE WOODS.  This wonderful musical by Stephen Sondheim will be performed by our very talented cast from March 1 – 18, 2018. 

By MARILYN JOZWIK

The music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim are not meant for the faint of heart, or faint of voice. His tunes take drastic plunges, have non-intuitive transitions and mood swings, while his lyrics come at you rapid-fire.

Nate Adams, director of Sunset Playhouse’s “Into the Woods,” admitted, “Sondheim scared me,” adding, “I got over my fear when I did ‘Assassins’ (Adams played the role of an assassin in the Sondheim musical.)

“Into the Woods” presents even greater challenges in staging and performing than “Assassins,” with its fairy tale settings and costumes, multi-layered tunes and larger than life (or, at least, stranger than life) characters. The book is by James Lapine. Lucky for Adams, he was able to assemble a cast of some of the finest talent around in local theater, many of whom I have enjoyed seeing onstage on a number of occasions. 

Adams may have ventured “Into the Woods” with a bit of trepidation, but returned unscathed, able to slay all the demons that the Sondheim music can throw at a cast and crew. In other words, it is a resounding success.

Be careful what you wish for

Sondheim’s quirky story is a mash-up of fairy tale characters – Cinderella (Hannah Esch), Little Red Riding Hood (Ella Rose Kleefisch), Rapunzel (Lydia Rose Eiche), Jack (Simon Earle) and The Beanstalk. Of course, there’s a Wicked Witch (Laura Monagle). They are all brought together by the Baker (Nathan Marinan) and the Baker’s Wife (Carrie A. Gray), who have not been able to conceive a child due to the Witch’s curse. The Witch will reverse the curse, but not without strings: The couple must present a milky white cow, a red cape, a golden slipper and a lock of silky golden hair to the Witch. And so, the couple journey into the woods where they are able to procure these items – with great difficulty – from characters in the aforementioned fairy tales.

At the end of Act I, all the characters seem to have gotten exactly what they wished for: Cinderella and Rapunzel got their men, Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother got freed from the Wolf, Jack got rich – and his beloved pet back — after climbing the beanstalk and slaying the Giant. And the Baker and his wife? They got their baby.

But all that unravels when the widow of the Giant, a Giantess, starts to wreak havoc on the fairy tale town … and not before many of the relationships begin to fray. There are decisions to be made at every turn, each character displaying a unique sense of morality in the choices. Some of the paths they choose lead to death, infidelity and greed, while other choices lead to friendships and changes of heart.

Fairy tales collide

There is so much going on here, it’s almost dizzying. Fairy tales get turned inside out, unlikely characters meet up and spout lines like, “Witches can be right, Giants can be good, You decide what’s right, You decide what’s good.” Fairy tale characters find that happiness is fleeting, such as Cinderella’s prince, who turns snarky, saying, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

There’s more than a little humor, which this cast carries out so well, such as the Wolf’s (Kevin Gadzalinski) sardonic intoning during a conversation with Little Red Riding Hood: “There’s no way to describe how you feel, when you’re talking to your meal.” Or Cinderella’s flippant remark: “There are times I actually enjoy cleaning.”

Sondheim gives the audience little time to digest what they’ve seen and heard as familiar storybook scenes and characters speak and intersect in unexpected and surprising ways. This cast moves the story along with breakneck speed.

The show’s theme is wrapped in the tender, thought-provoking “Children Will Listen” in which the Company sings: “Careful what you say, Children will listen, Careful you do it too, Children will see.”

Singing Sondheim

This is an exceptionally strong cast throughout with no weak links, especially vocally. Music director Mark Mrozek gets a nice, full sound from five musicians who complement the lyrics without overpowering them. The show is cast wonderfully, each performer having the right look and bearing for his or her character.

Setting the bar very high is Esch, whose Cinderella opens the show with a lovely soprano voice befitting a fairy tale princess. The other fairy tale(ONE?) characters are also introduced in the “Into the Woods” prologue, each displaying an equally strong characterization. I especially enjoyed Kleefisch’s feisty characterization of Little Red Riding Hood.  Marinan has such a sincere quality as the Baker and is nicely paired with Gray. Marinan is especially effective as the Baker sings “No More,” in which he wishes to run away and put an end to all the witches and giants in his life – a metaphor for his troubles.

Monagle’s Witch is also delightfully wicked, as are Cinderella’s Wicked Stepsisters, played by Ashley Patin and Sarah Briana Monahan, who’ve camped up their characters. Earle has a breezy tenor voice and easy-going manner that adds irony to lines such as, “I buried her in a footprint,” referring to a dead character’s grave, i.e., a giant’s footprint.

Chaotic setting

While other stagings of the show might be more literal, using mostly a woods backdrop, this production chooses more of a metaphor – at least that’s the way I see it. The stage is surrounded by large panels on which are hung – in a helter-skelter manner – chairs, small tables, shutters and other wood items. Perhaps it is symbolic of the chaos that surrounds the characters and the swirling array of decisions they have to make that define them and teach their children. It sort of reminded me of a still life of Dorothy and the swirling objects that surrounded her in the tornado scene in “The Wizard of Oz.” Cleverly, the chairs toward the bottoms of the panels are often used as set pieces and then hung back up.

While it is an intriguing visual, the muddle of stuff tended to muddle the view of the characters as well. A less distracting setting would have spotlighted the characters better and focused on their performances.

Story-high ladders wheeled in to represent Rapunzel’s castle and Jack’s beanstalk, among other settings, work well.

The voice of Jana Rinelli as The Giantess resonating through the theater, as well as the booming sounds of the Giantess’ footsteps, are most effective, giving those scenes a boost of adrenaline.

If you go

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “Into the Woods”

When: Through March 18

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430; sunsetplayhouse.com

Sunset Playhouse named Theatre of the Year – Broadway World Regional Awards

Winners Announced For The 2017 BroadwayWorld Milwaukee Awards; Sunset Playhouse Wins Theatre of the Year!

Winners have been announced for the 2017 BroadwayWorld Milwaukee Awards, honoring productions which opened between October 2016 and September 2017.

This year the BroadwayWorld Regional Awards took place in a record number of markets, with a record number of votes – including 56 cities across the United States; with our awards taking place globally in a record-breaking 11 countries, including multiple Canadian cities!

Nominations were reader-submitted and after the nomination period ended, BroadwayWorld’s local editors proofed the list for eligibility and errors.

The votes have been counted… Check out the full list of winners below!

Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Haubner – Jesus Christ Superstar – West Allis Players

Best Actor in a Play
Nicholas Callan Haubner – Of Mice and Men – Seventh Row Center

Best Actress in a Musical
Kat Geertsen – If/Then – Greendale Community Theatre

Best Actress in a Play
Beth Perry – 33 Variations – Waukesha Civic Theatre

Best Costume Design
Heather Patterson & Rebecca Schilling – 1776 – Lake Country Playhouse

Best Director of a Musical
Tim Backes – Next to Normal – All In Productions

Best Director of a Play
Dustin J. Martin – 33 Variations – Waukesha Civic Theater 

Best Musical

Next to Normal – All In Productions

Best Play
33 Variations – Waukesha Civic Theatre

Best Scenic Design
Christopher Kurtz – Romeo & Juliet – SummerStage of Delafield

Best Youth Actor (under 18)
Jake Koch – 1776 – Lake Country Playhouse

Best Youth Actress (under 18)
Harper Navin – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Sunset Playhouse

Theatre of the Year
Sunset Playhouse

BROADWAY VETERANS FEATURED AT THE SIDENOTES CABARET

BROADWAY VETERANS FEATURED

AT THE SIDENOTES CABARET

 

Broadway veterans SUSAN AND ANDREW VARELA will be featured in a cabaret titled PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE: THE ROMANCE OF RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN, February 15-18, 2018 at the Sunset Playhouse SideNotes Cabaret in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.  Timeless classics from OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL,  SOUTH PACIFIC, and other works by Rodgers & Hammerstein will be presented by these charismatic and gifted performers.  The Varelas relocated to Wisconsin after two decades of successful appearances on Broadway and in touring companies.

 

Most recently, ANDREW VARELA was seen as Daddy Warbucks in ANNIE at Skylight Music Theatre. Other Skylight performances include the title character in SWEENEY TODD and Inspector Javert in LES MISÉRABLES.  He also has been featured with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and First Stage Children’s Theatre.  In April he will appear with In Tandem Theatre as El Gallo in THE FANTASTICKS.  SUSAN VARELA, a Milwaukee native, made her debut on Broadway as Fantine in LES MISÉRABLES and has performed locally with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, and Skylight Music Theatre (SWEENEY TODD, THE WIZARD OF OZ, INTO THE WOODS).

 

The talented duo will be backed by an exceptional three-piece combo led by Music Director RYAN CAPPLEMAN. Ryan performs and choreographs locally and is a frequent collaborator with Skylight Music Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, and Danceworks. Bassist STEVE RINDT works with Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra as a conductor and coach and performs regularly with the Wisconsin Philharmonic and Festival City Symphony. Drummer JIM RYAN has been playing regionally for decades, appears with several local groups, and also maintains a private drum instruction studio.

 

Performances of PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE are Thursday, February 15 through Saturday February 17 at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, February 18 at 3:00 p.m.