Archive for August, 2010

AUDITIONS! – Over the River and Through the Woods – Great Actors Needed!

I know we already put out information about tonight’s audition for OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS, however this is a follow-up to emphasize how wonderful these parts are and how quality actors are needed to make this show fly.

Plaza Theatre Company is delighted to announce auditions for Over The River And Through The Woods on Tuesday, August 31st. Auditions will last from 7 to 10pm and are by appointment only. Those auditioning will only need to spend 10 to 15 minutes auditioning for the Director and the Producers. Materials for the audition will be provided at the audition.

The play calls for a tight cast of seasoned performers with exceptional comic timing and appeal. Required are two sets of Italian grandparents, a young man in his middle thirties and an attractive young woman mid to late twenties. All roles are open and Plaza producers as well as the show’s director Kevin Poole, are looking to fill the roles with talented and experiences performers who can bring the wit and charm of the script to life through these wonderful characters.

Audition appointments, as well as more detailed information about the audition, the play, and the open roles are available by visiting plaza-theatre.com/audition.asp.

Whether you are a performer who has already graced the Plaza stage or a perfomer new to Plaza, we encourage you to consider auditioning for Over The River And Through The Woods. We know you’ll find the experience rewarding and the time well spent.

Advertisements

An invitation to Plaza’s 2010 Season Ticket holders

Dear Plaza Season Ticket Holders,
 
Well, 2010 has been a smash success here at Plaza Theatre Company. With more performances and more sell-outs than ever before, PlazaCo has truly become “Cleburne’s Unsurpassed Family Entertainment Destination”. During the 2010 Season Plaza will have played over 200 performances for over 27,000 patrons! Not bad when you consider our humble beginnings just three short years ago.
 
And now Plaza has become a major player in the DFW arts community by continually receiving spectacular reviews from area critics and by consistently drawing the best talent the Metroplex has to offer – even so far as to receive national media coverage for the critically acclaimed 2010 production of INTO THE WOODS.
 
We know 2011 will take PlazaCo to even greater heights of quality and satisfaction. Our season of shows will thrill audiences of every kind with another 200 performances of 10 wonderful plays. From roaring comedies like THE MAN WITH THE POINTED TOES and HARVEY, to dance extravaganza’s like CRAZY FOR YOU  and HELLO, DOLLY! From a side-splitting thriller like ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S THE 39 STEPS to hilarious musical comedies likes ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. And from a swashbuckling adventure like THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL to America’s favorite musical ANNIE – not to mention the Plaza favorite SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN returning for the 1st time since 2008 – we promise Plaza’s 10 show lineup for 2011 will thrill you like never before.
 
Due to overwhelming demand as well as due to a desire to continue increasing the quality of our productions, we will be slightly increasing ticket prices for 2011. General admission prices will now be $15 for Adults, $13 for Students and Seniors and $12 for Children. The good news is that Season ticket prices for 2011 will not increase at that rate. For 2011, Season Tickets will be $120 for Adults, $100 for Students and Seniors and $90 for Children. That means Season Tickets are now a whopping 24% savings over general admission prices, which means Season Tickets are now an even better deal than before!
 
Plaza’s annual Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Night is September 14th from 7 to 10pm. It is an Open House and, as a 2010 Season Ticket holder, you are invited. There will be entertainment, explanations of each 2011 production and finger foods. There is no cost and reservations are not required, simply drop by any time between 7 and 10pm. During that time you may, if you choose, renew your Season Tickets for 2011. Season Ticket renewals will be taken in the order that folks arrive by a take-a-number system to insure fairness. If you are wishing to renew but can’t join us the night of September 14th, don’t worry. You still have priority to renew before non-Season Ticket holders through September 30th.

Additionally, to our Season Ticket holders who have sponsored seats, you may make your 2011 Season Ticket renewal reservations beginning September 7th. Further, Group Season Ticket renewals (for groups of 30 or more) can be made, as a group, on September 13th starting at 1pm. These advance sales must be accompanied by reservations for specific dates to each production. 

As a 2010 season ticket holder, we are confident you have enjoyed the shows we’ve worked hard to produce for you this year. Each has been unique, but every one has carried the Plaza promise of being entertaining and enjoyable at an affordable price, all right here in a beautiful facility very close to home. Our hope is you’ve found great value in your 2010 Season Tickets and that you’ll be eager to join us again at Plaza Theatre Company for an even greater 2011!
 
See you September 14th,
 
Sincerely,
Plaza Theatre Company Founders and Staff –
JaceSon and Tina Barrus
Aaron and Milette Siler

Our 2011 Season:

THE MAN WITH THE POINTED TOES ~ Playing December 31st (our New Year’s Eve Show) thru January 29th

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN ~ Playing February 4th thru March 12th

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL ~ Playing March 18th thru April 16th

HARVEY ~ Playing April 22nd thru May 14th

HELLO, DOLLY! ~ Playing May 20th thru June 18th

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT ~ Playing June 24th thru July 30th

SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN ~ Playing August 5th thru September 10th

ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S THE 39 STEPS ~ Playing September 16th thru October 8th

CRAZY FOR YOU ~ Playing October 14th thru November 12th

ANNIE ~ Playing November 18th thru December 23rd

AUDITIONS for Over the River and Through the Woods

Directed by Kevin Poole

Call backs are Wed. Sept. 1 at 7-10pm

SYNOPSIS:
Nick is a single Italian-American guy from New Jersey. His parents retired and moved to Florida. That doesn’t mean his family isn’t still in Jersey. In fact, he sees both set of grandparents every Sunday for dinner. This is routine until he has to tell them that he’s been offered a dream job. The job he’s been waiting for – marketing executive – would take him away from his beloved, but annoying, grandparents. He tells them but the news doesn’t sit so well. Thus begins a series of schemes to keep Nick around. How could he betray his family’s love to move to Seattle for a job, wonders his grandparents? Well, Frank, Aida, Nunzio and Emma do their level best, and that includes bringing to dinner the lovely – and single – Caitlin O’Hare as bait.

AUDITION PREPARATION:
Auditioners will be asked to come prepared to read cold from the script. Each auditioner should plan to spend about five to ten minutes auditioning for the Director.  If necessary, a call back audition will be held on Wed. September 1st at 7pm. Those auditioners who the Director wishes to see further will be invited to the call back audition which may last up to three hours time. 

PERFORMANCES:
The production will play on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and Saturday afternoons opening on October 29th and playing through November 20th. Rehearsals will commence on Monday Sept. 6th and take place 7:00-10:00 pm Mon. – Wed. evenings through opening. No Saturday rehearsals are scheduled at this time.

REHEARSALS:
Rehearsals take place Monday thru Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings till opening. No Sunday rehearsals or performances.

CHARACTERS:
(all parts are open, some parts may be double-cast)
Ages are approximate and are NOT cast in stone.

Nick Cristano: (30’s.) Third generation Italian-American. Has lunch every Sunday with his two sets of grandparents.

Frank Gianelli: (Early 80’s.) Nick’s maternal grandfather. Native born Italian sent to America when he was a young boy.

Aida Gianelli: (70’s.) Nick’s maternal grandmother. A genius with tomato, pasta dough and garlic.

Nunzio Cristano: (70’s.) Nick’s paternal grandfather. First generation Italian-American. Good hearted loudmouth who harbors a secret.

Emma Cristano: (70’s.) Nick’s paternal grandmother. First generation Italian-American. Very direct and a little pushy.

Caitlin O’Hare: (Late 20’s.) Attractive and charming Irish-American. The daughter of Emma’s canasta partner who is set up on a blind date with Nick.

Click here to visit the PlazaCo Auditions page for more info:

http://www.plaza-theatre.com/audition-detail.asp?ShowID=88

Click here to make an audition appointment:

http://www.appointmentquest.com/provider/2040169233?schedule=overtheriverandthroughthewoods

John Garcia’s The Column Review picked up by National Theatre Website

 

We were so thrilled with John Garcia’s review of INTO THE WOODS for The Column, largely because it has helped the word get out that INTO THE WOODS is a show worth seeing. We were even more thilled today to learn the review was picked up for publication on talkinbroadway.com – a national theatre website. We are so honored to have this show on our stage and grateful for the hard work and excellence of the cast and crew.

Click below to visit the review on talkinbroadway.com

http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/dallas/

Into The Woods 360 degree Panorama of the Set

This is a 360 degree panorama photo of the Into The Woods set at Plaza Theatre Company. The set was designed by Aaron Siler, built JaceSon Barrus, Parker Barrus, Milette Siler, Cody Vernon, Jay Lewis and Daron Cockerell, and painted by Shelbie McElree. Enjoy…..then come see the show. Plays thru September 4th.

Photo tour of INTO THE WOODS characters

This is a brief photo tour of the many characters in INTO THE WOODS. (Photos by Ginny Rodgers)

INTO THE WOODS plays at Plaza Theatre Company thru September 4th. Call 817-202-0600 for reservations, prices and showtimes.

A lovely review of INTO THE WOODS by John Garcia of John Garcia’s The Column

Okay, so maybe “lovely” doesn’t quite cover it. This is probably the finest review we’ve ever gotten at Plaza. We hope you’ll give INTO THE WOODS a chance based on the review you see here. To all our lovely cast, crew, designers, musicians, and technicians – CONGRATULATIONS!  Oh, and to Mr. Garcia – thanks for the kind words, we’ll do our best to live up to your generous comments.

__________________________________________________

________________________INTO THE WOODS_________________________

*REVIEWED by THE COLUMN’s Senior Chief Critic John Garcia

FOX News Political correspondent Bill O’Reilly has recently taken jabs at actress Jennifer Aniston regarding her upcoming film titled THE SWITCH. A film about a single woman who decides she wants a child. Since she can’t find the right guy, she’s going on a different route. In the film she does make a comment of why she doesn’t need a man or that the child really doesn’t need a father. This has caused O’Reilly to slam Aniston for her stance on single parenthood and how children really don’t need a father in their lives.

Just a few months earlier Jennifer Lopez released sort of the same
“themed” film called THE BACK UP PLAN.

Then just this past weekend TV/Stage/Film star Neil Patrick Harris and his partner actor David Burtka announced that they are having twins (through a surrogate mother).

Oh has the times changed in our society regarding parenthood. This in regards to what “types” of people are qualified to be parents, single parenthood, and what happens to these children raised under these situations.

But then we have the sickening ugliness of today’s cruel world of parents hurting and causing the death of their own children for a myriad of reasons. As you read this review I’m sure you are aware of the adorable little boy in Oregon (David Kyron) who went missing after his step mother dropped him off at school for his science fair. As of today she is the single suspect and the tiny tyke still has not been found.

So what does make a good parent? Does single parent hood work? How do we protect our children in such a violent world? Today’s children & teens are faced with the internet, texting, and cell phones. New methods for children and teens to get involved with dangerous individuals.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical INTO THE WOODS has interwoven into his complex, lush score, sublime lyrics, and emotional book these themes of parents and children.

Sondheim has chosen some rather unique material to create his musical scores.

He’s used ancient Greek works for FORUM and THE FROGS; a barber out for revenge and a woman turning dead bodies into meat pies for SWEENEY TODD; A single man’s quest for life and love in COMPANY; A painting for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE; and so on.

For INTO THE WOODS, Sondheim and book writer James Lapine meshed both Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 book, The Uses of Enchantment ,and the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm. However, in several interviews Sondheim commented that he also used some of his own childhood memories woven into the score. He has been quoted as saying that his father was very uncomfortable with babies and children, while his own mother had said that she regretted having children.

Many critics in 1987 (when the original Broadway production debuted)
stated that the piece had a dark thread of subtext regarding AIDS.

During the 1980s the first wave of AIDS slammed Broadway like a lethal tidal wave of death, taking the lives of so many brilliant Broadway performers, directors, choreographers, dancers, etc.

Thus the death of several characters in WOODS and how the land’s leaders (i.e. the “royalty” in the show) refused to accept their reasonability or failure to do something about all the chaos caused in the land. As the steward states in the second act, “I don’t make policy, I just follow it.” These critics wrote that Sondheim seems to be referring here to President Regan and the government for their horrific failure of not helping those AIDS.

The original Broadway production opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on November 5, 1987 playing for 764 performances before closing on September 3, 1989. It was nominated for 10 Tony awards, winning three (Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical). It would be a masked man with some really bad skin issues (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) that took home the Tony award for Best Musical over WOODS.

In 2002 it would have its first (and so far only) Broadway revival at the Broadhurst Theatre, lasting for 279 performances before closing in December of that same year. In a strange twist of déjà vu, the revival received 10 Tony Award nominations (just like the original). Only this time around it would take home the big prize-Best Revival of a Musical.

For this revival the book was reworked, especially in giving the second act stronger emotional weight. Also a couple of songs were switched around. Some of the new changes included adding a featured appearance by the three little pigs. This was actually used in the San Diego workshop production in 1986.

From the London production this revival also used the duet “Our Little
World,” that was between the Witch and Rapunzel. Another new element from the London production was also injected into this revival was that of instead of using a fake cow (named “milky White”); they used a human actor dressed up in a cow costume. Another change was the song “The Last Lullaby”, which was now being performed by the witch to the Baker’s baby that she held hostage. Finally two wolves were used (the original had only one).

The basic plot is a meshing of various characters from fairy tales, like Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, wolves, a baker and His wife, Jack and the beanstalk, and a witch (among other fairy tale characters).

The story takes all these characters into a morality tale of growing up, parents wanting and then caring for children, single parenthood, and the disappointment of parents & children. But also on how to accept responsibility for your actions. There is also a wise lesson on wishes. Because it is those wishes that they ask for that these characters have to accept the actions and consequences from those wishes.

I saw the original 1987 Broadway production on the last month that Bernadette Peters would be playing the witch (she left the production after five months due to filming commitments). I enjoyed the majority of the score, but more so its brilliant lyrics that really grounded the characters’ emotions and subtext while James Lapine’s book fit perfectly within Sondheim`s score.

Outside of the original Broadway production, I’ve sat through several productions of INTO THE WOODS, including ICT Mainstage’s wonderful version in 2002. I’ve also seen some major stink-a-roo versions and some “eh” versions as well.

This leads us to Plaza Theater Company’s (PTC) production of INTO THE WOODS.

PTC has only been in existence for three years, yet they have certainly made a name for themselves. Last season I saw their productions of AIDA and THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES. The latter was quite enjoyable & thoroughly entertaining, but AIDA was superb from beginning to end.

PTC walked into the 2010 COLUMN Awards with over a staggering 30 nominations from their various productions, resulting in making unprecedented history that evening. Their production of AIDA would go on to win Best Musical (Non-equity), the first theater company in COLUMN Award history to take home the big prize that was not from the Dallas suburb area.

I was quite apprehensive and uneasy when I took on this assignment to review this show. As much as I respect PTC, this is one of Sondheim’s most complex scores that require really strong singers.

But the lyrics, book, and subtext of the characters go into deep dark,
emotional waters. Then there was the issue of taped music. PTC uses taped music instead of a live orchestra, and Sondheim’s WOODS score is lush with strings and horns. The physical elements also include several big special effects, lots of specific lighting, fairy tale costuming, and a set of trees, woods, etc. PTC also happens to perform in the round. As you can see from all the above, I was quite worried on what the outcome would be. I took a deep breath as the lights dimmed.

Plaza Theatre Company’s INTO THE WOODS exceeded my expectations. Nope. I take that back. They way, way, WAY exceeded my expectations with this splendid, stirring production.

The second you walk into the theater, you swim through a pre-show lighting design of intense greens and blues. This is a theater in the round, so the walls are painted with a marvelous, mist like murals of trees, hills, etc. in rich colors and finesse detail. Shelbie McElree who painted these murals immediately put you smack down in the middle of this forest. Sound Designer G. Aaron Siler added a sweet, soothing background of birds ever so softly chirping all around you.

Mr. Siler also designed the set, which was an endless array of leaves,
tree limbs, and greenery scattered generously above the audience.

Cinderella’s large tree is placed directly right in the entrance. Rapunzel’s castle is a lovely scenic mural design painted by McElree, but at the very top is a tiny wooden window that opens up. On either side of the space Siler has created the home for the Baker and his wife, and on the other side is Cinderella’s home (which later serves as the castle). Both set units have a festive array of properties sprinkled on them. There is a sea blue green fire/oven piece painted yet again in rich detail in the baker`s home.

Once we go deeper into the forest, Siler designed various tree stumps and two large paper mache trees. He also fashioned a large net like blanket of leaves & flowers that cover the Baker’s house unit. This worked faultlessly within the entire scenic concept. For Granny’s house he designed a wall unit that is see through so that we can observe the action between the wolf and Little Red Ridinghood.

While I could see through the house scrim, it was quite difficult to make out the actions occurring behind this. I could sense many in the audience did not realize that Little Red and granny actually came out of the wolf’s stomach. But that was the only minor flaw in another wise visually stunning scenic design.

Cameron Barrus and Siler’s magnificent lighting design can match (and even beat!) some of the lighting designs I’ve seen in some equity houses. This company invested (wisely!) in some of the best state of art lighting instruments that raise the artistic bar high here. The use of rich, bold, vibrant colors throughout the piece is a work of art here. Each musical number (and even scene changes) have their own palette of colors, hues, gobos, and design. Some of the most visually exciting designs of light include the witch’s transformation, the Baker’s wife death, the Witch’s number “Last Midnight” and the number “No One is Alone”.

The design of pin pointing lighting for certain emotional moments or lyrics was outstanding here. You honestly do not see that much anymore in many lighting designs. Throughout the evening lighting moved, swirled, and changed into a dazzling, dizzy array of color.

The special effects here were simple, yet they were expertly executed.
The use of a rapid zing of a single strobe of light for the witch throwing the peas was right on the money. The combination of fog and light to transform the witch, again perfection. But even the simplest effects worked delightfully here.

Such as the dropping of Cinderella’s gown and her birds that speak to her. But the use of a shining a video image of Cinderella’s mother onto the tree-that was pure genius! I won’t ruin the fun here, but what they created for the Giant wife’s death was hysterical. Another stroke of brilliance was the prince’s horse. I rolled over in laughter in what they used here!

Siler’s sound design for various special effects radiated within the show. Such as the sound effects for the witch’s wand and the booming voice for the giant’s wife. However, I did miss not hearing the loud, crashing thud of music that accompanies Cinderella each time she ran on stage and fell on her behind.

Costuming is getting harder and harder to appreciate and admire around town nowadays. Either theater companies borrow from other companies or use what they have “in stock” to somehow make it work for their current production. Or they rent from costume warehouses that have costumes that you unfortunately have seen a million times used before in other productions all over the metroplex. There are still some costume designers in this community that actually build, construct, and design original costumes. Sadly those are far and few.

Last season Tina Barrus designed the jaw dropping, exquisite costumes for PTC’s AIDA that left me drooling in my seat. Just layers of glittery fabrics and an endless array of costumes that you could clearly see were built from scratch. No wonder she won last season’s COLUMN award for Best costume design in a musical for AIDA.

Ms. Barrus once again met the challenge here for INTO THE WOODS. Her costume design here is magnificent. Period. It is an array of truly charming fairy tale costumes. Again, you see they were built from scratch, using rich fabrics, but also using period appropriate fabric with patterns on them. You have the step sisters and step mother in massive hoop skirt gowns with grand fabrics; the princes in regal coats, ruffles, matched with gold Epaulettes. One prince has a very ornate cape that has gold thread that looks gorgeous under the lighting. Barrus designed for Cinderella a beautiful powder blue gown with a sprinkle of rhinestones and sequins. But for the back of the gown she fashioned this billowing chiffon that has tints of glitter.

For the wolf Barrus designed a fantastic ornate coat that is over layed with a massive vest of wolf hair (and a tail!). For the witch she designed a tattered, unique costume that screamed witch, complete with an elegant yet mysterious black cloak of rich black velvet trimmed in silver. But wait till you see her ball gown! It received a loud gasp from the audience and wild applause. Even the costumes for the non-royalty are designed with incredible detail. Jack’s mother has several pieces that really are designed in harmonious fabrics and colors. Jack has a beautiful costume of color as well. Little Red has a divine costume of billowing plaid dress with matching hat!

The only boo-boo I saw in the design was that you could see the boning
of the hoops that made up the hoop skirt for the ladies who wore them. I think if she had put a petticoat of tulle or crinoline over the actual hoopskirt those bumpy boning hoops would vanish.

Regardless, this was the most impressive costume design I’ve seen so far this season. A round of loud applause must also go to Barrus’s eight costume assistants who assisted her in sewing and constructing her cloth visions to grand life.

The only physical design element that didn’t match the artistic bar set by the others was the design of the cow. It looked a tad amateurish and unfinished. It would have been interesting if they had gone with the revival’s version of having a live actor play “milky white”.

Another round of applause should also go to the tech crew of this production. PTC is a small, intimate space. Thus any movement or sound is clearly heard and seen within the space. But the tech crew (led by stage manager Shauna Lewis) brought out the massive trees, Granny’s large wall unit, and other pieces with barely a whisper. No loud thuds, no shuffling, no dragging the pieces on the ground. These were not small pieces whatsoever. And yet this tech crew worked so professionally in not distracting the audience with their scene changes.

Taped music. The death to musical theater in my book. For years I’ve despised and hated this use of this format for musicals. From the actor’s point of view, it stifles greatly those live moments that happen within a song and live performance. If you are so in the moment, a live orchestra or band can follow you. They allow you to live, crest, and open up that moment. Not taped music. You need to stick to it.

It is so frustrating because laughs are lost or hindered because you have to keep up with the damn tape. But then there are the pick up cues or the starting off a musical number. That’s where taped music really fails. Worse you have singers who fall behind the beat of the score or speed ahead of the music. With a live orchestra and its musical director-you have the beauty of them to aide you in catching up, slowing down, or adjusting to where you are. Um, can’t do that with taped music. So when that happens (and I’ve seen it happen) it is so awful and makes you squirm with uneasiness as the poor singer dies on stage thanks to the strangulation of being chained to tape music.

What makes matters worse is that the majority of these “taped” orchestrations sound like cheesy, electronic amusement park themed music. Horns and strings sound so fake and ear bleeding awful that it just destroys whatever emotion is being explored on stage. Its like the theater is trying to save money so they apparently got the orchestrations from the back of a van sold by Harry who just got out on parole. Cheap. But you get what you paid for. And it shows. Its all these reasons that make me groan with great displeasure of having to sit and watch the train wreck that these taped musicals bring.

When I saw AIDA at PTC last season I had no idea they used taped music. So I opened my program and saw no band listed, I thought, “Oh sweet lord, its taped music. Here we go.” They taught me a lesson that night. The orchestrations they used were fantastic. It was rich, bold, and sounded like actual real instruments. Not cheesy organ grinding electronic junk. No screeching electronic drum machines. It all sounded like a real orchestra.

For their production of INTO THE WOODS they faced a major challenge. Sondheim’s score is quite complex, with tons of music cues for everything from handing peas to someone, to starting numbers with not even a hint of an introduction.

Sondheim composes his music to literally intertwine & segue numbers within the book. There are tempos and variations in the score that demands the orchestra to stay glued to the action on stage. Plus the WOODS score is best heard with strings and horns.

How did PTC measure up to that challenge? They succeeded in such an astounding way that I swore they must have had a real orchestra backstage. The strings and horns sounded like REAL instruments. The underscore (and there is a lot) stayed in perfect unison with the cast. They obviously spent money on this taped orchestration. Well, it was worth every single cent.

There were though just a few, minor hiccups with a couple of the singers. It only occurred in the first act. A couple of times the soloists got ahead of the music, or fell behind. But they immediately realized this and quickly got on the right tempo. But this was VERY rare throughout this very difficult score.

The theater was filled with a lush, grand orchestra that never once sounded electronic, fake, or bland. But to literally match the emotions on stage, and to also keep all the grand underscoring. I was left speechless.

But this music needs to be taught, so major kudos to Music Director Rebecca Lowrey who obviously worked this cast to respect and honor Sondheim. I know she must have engraved into their brains diction, diction, diction. Because it was clean, pure, and perfect.

Okay, so Aaron Siler designed the lighting, sound, and set, oh and somehow found the time to direct this production as well. His direction is rich in detail while the staging is pristine to the smallest moment. Remember, this is in the round. Yet Siler magically created beautiful staging sequences that flowed within the score with powerful emotional strength. He kept his actors rooted in organic realism, not becoming over the top. It was just so enjoyable to watch the subtext flow through the staging and direction. You could truly FEEL what these characters were going through. Musical numbers that required comedic staging, it was there-resulting in loud laughs. What Siler inserted musically for the witch’s transformation was hilarious! I never expected that and just howled in laughter.

But it was the musical pieces that needed dramatic intensity is where Siler impressed me the most. There were truly scenes and moments in that darker second act that did actually put a lump in my throat. Bravo Mr. Siler, bravo!

The talents and strength of any director either rise or fall on one major, major element: casting. Add the biggest shining gold star you can find to put on Siler’s list of directorial accolades for his superb choices of casting this musical.

The singing from this cast is remarkable, utterly remarkable! I could not believe the vocal strength, intensity, and brilliance that this cast had. Harmonies that melted into each other in glorious melodies. Diction was crisp, crystal clear from 97% of the cast. A couple of secondary performers had problems in keeping the diction clean in a couple of the rapid fire of lyrics. The vocal finesse, strength and power that this cast had would overshadow some equity productions currently performing around town. Yes, they are that good!

There is not a single weak performer within this cast. Not one. From the principals to the featured roles. Each one of them brought to the table vital commitment to the story and their roles, and the emotional content within the piece that was so engrossing to watch develop on the stage.

Deborah Dennard (Cinderella’s Stepmother); Kayla Esmond (Florinda); and Megan Cavasar (Lucinda) bring to the table (or maybe I should say forest) the right amount of snooty rich broads and sassy comedy. Esmond and Cavasar in particular achieved some wicked laughs as they ridiculed Cinderella. However, I think they could have added more physical comedy once they became the blind stepsisters. Particularly during the journey through the woods and in the choreography for the finale. But they both were still deliciously funny. In fact all three ladies reminded me of Dina Lohan and her Lohan daughters. All that was missing was the ankle monitor on of the step sisters.

Shauna Lewis gave Little Red’s grandmother a humorous approach of a strong senior citizen with a slight hint of Rambo.

As the “Steward”, Seth Cunningham portrayed the role with the perfect ambiance and blend of a royal snobbish servant who has his nose in the air. Cunningham also provided a balance of both humor and drama subtext with his facial expressions behind the royalty’s back. We could see his personal feelings peer through his face on how he felt about the royals and their inability to think on their own or govern the lands.

In a fresh, new approach Jake Lewis portrays “Cinderella’s Father” as a stumbling drunk (complete with a bright red nose) who slurred his dialogue all through the evening. Even with a minor role, he still gave the show some hearty laughs.

Auston McIntosh (Jack) and Heather Morrill (Jack’s mother) had true chemistry and believability as mother and child. What I found most refreshing in Morrill’s portrayal was that she did not play the role like in the past. That of a bickering, bellowing, hen pecking mother. She gave the character shades of warmth and genuine concern for her son’s well being. Ms. Morrill also got great laughs each time she said the line about the spoons. Her singing soprano voice had this bold, hearty rich tone that sealed in her characterization. McIntosh was the right age and look for the boy Jack. His innocent face framed with red hair gave Jack the right look of a youth who somehow kept disappointing his mother.

It was actually a welcomed relief to actually see a teen boy portray the role. I once had to sit through a production of WOODS in which a chunky, 40 plus year old actor portrayed the role.

McIntosh has a nice tenor singing voice, but needs to get a firm grasp on his vibrato. There were moments during his singing when the vibrato escaped him, and it caused his notes to sound shaky, machine gun like. His acting choices were terrific throughout the evening. He did not try to “be” a teen, but was, and it played wonderfully here. He also had some touching scene work with the Baker and Little Red within the second act.

As the maiden with the long golden hair, Jill Baker was outstanding as “Rapunzel”. A glorious soprano voice that filled the theater with divine singing. Ms. Baker possesses this absolutely marvelous voice that never once cracked or struggled in the difficult composition of her solos. Sondheim composed this never ending line of her singing all these “ahs” in a rollercoaster fashion of up and down. Baker handled that with sublime vocal technique. Ms. Baker has a gorgeous face with these eyes that displayed so vividly the lost, hurt, and depression of being all alone. She did add some hysterical comedic moments later in the show with these “deer caught the head lights” looks out into the audience. But she handled the dramatic overtones of her role with equal successful results. The scene with the witch was particular moving in the song “Stay with me”.

Burl Proctor portrayed the “Narrator” with a warm stage presence and a commanding, inviting voice that worked like a charm for his characterization. With Siler’s staging the idea for bringing Proctor into the scene to make the birds work for Cinderella was too, too funny. Later as the “Mysterious Man”, Proctor changed his body and voice to bring a completely different character onto the stage. This worked so well for the second act that resulted in one of the most moving duets of the evening, “No More” with Ben Phillips as the
“baker”.

I have seen Daron Cockerell in several productions, but here she gave the best performance I have seen her do on stage. As “Cinderella” she sings with a splendid, gorgeous soprano voice that would even melt the heart of the vengeful giant’s wife. Sopranos at times screech to hit the high notes. Ms. Cockerell avoided that completely.

Her soprano voice soared effortlessly into the higher notes with sublime results. Cockerell never looked so beautiful with her ruby hued hair fashioned up in curls and make up impeccably done. But it was her acting choices that truly impressed me here. She was fresh and original in her interpretation. I particularly found moving was how she displayed emotionally connecting to the Baker’s child and Little Red Ridinghood.

Cockerell’s arc of this princess who really was not comfortable
in jewels and ball gowns, but found her niche in life in loving
& caring for a child. I was quite moved on how Cockerell displayed
that within her characterization. It was a radiant performance
that Ms. Cockerell gave Saturday night.

What would a fairy tale musical be without a prince? For INTO THE WOODS we have two of them. But they are not cut from the cloth of noble Prince Eric (LITTLE MERMAID) or Prince Charming (Disney’s CINDERELLA). Nope. For Sondheim’s version, they are self centered, self worshipping, snooty, vain men. Think JERSEY SHORE meets THE BACHELOR. JaceSon Barrus and Kyle Adams deliver some of the heartiest laughs of the evening as these two royal spoiled princes. Barrus’s prince is chasing a chick with bad shoes from payless while Adams’s prince is having to climb a huge tower, but using her hair as a ladder.

Both men have one of the show stopping numbers of the night with the duet “Agony”. This song has some of the best side splitting lyrics from the Sondheim catalogue. Both actors are handsome, masculine, and work in perfect sync with each other. They also happen to have exquisite, belting tenor voices that blend superbly within the number.

Kyle Adams has a fantastic tenor voice that is pure and is securely rooted with the perfect vibrato.

Barrus has a booming, rich, and full tenor voice with an elegant vibrato.

Each actor has a certain pose or gesture that they used each time they appeared on stage, which sealed in their characterizations each time they stepped onto the set.

Barrus did get in a great zinger of an ad lib in act two. Adams on his entrance accidentally brushed against the paper mache tree, which came crashing down landing on an audience member. But oddly enough, it fit within the action. The giant’s wife was stomping through the lands seeking revenge for her husband’s death. So the trees would fall from her massive feet crashing like King Kong, right? So she took out a couple of audience members. They weren’t season subscribers anyway.

Anyway, Adams played off the crash with the perfect facial expression of “Oh, its just a peasant. Moving on.” Barrus, with perfect comic timing responded, “Well done Brother”. The audience roared in laughter. Guys, I say keep this new bit in!

Barrus also portrayed the wolf with superior results. That belting tenor voice transformed into an ice cold, sinister growl that had evil written all over it. His diction was excellent, and his lyric interpretation was original and fresh.

Ben Phillips and Meredith Browning had some of the best chemistry of the entire production. These two talented thespians were the baker and his wife. For some strange reason, past actors I’ve seen in these roles seem to stay on the same level of a bickering, bitter couple. Phillips and Browning instead started off with this warm glow of a loving marriage, its just that they wanted a child so bad.

Their chemistry is so vital within the show because we as the audience
want to truly feel and cheer on their heroic task to get all the ingredients that the witch is asking for. Phillips has a softer tenor voice than the rest of the male cast members.

But this worked in perfect sync with his characterization. Browning sings with a marvelous soprano voice that floats evenly on her elegant vibrato.

Some of the most touching, dramatic scene work of the entire evening happened in the second act that involved both Phillips and Browning. Past actors who played the baker seemed to go for laughs when the baby cried in his arms. Phillips wonderfully avoided that. Instead his face show such hurt and disappointment that his own child won’t allow him to hold him. This gave Phillips the dramatic intensity within the character’s arc a much more cathartic outcome. Thus by the end you have a big lump in your throat, thanks to Phillips deeply moving performance. Browning’s best dramatic scene work in the second act is so special and moving, that when her tragic end arrives, your heart breaks in two. She also puts a tear in your eye in her final scene with her husband holding their child. These two performers are the heart of this production.

With a stage overflowing with peerless performances, it is a jaw dropping revelation that the loudest and robust laughs of the evening came from a 14 yr old girl named Taylor O’Toole as “Little Red Ridinghood”.

She is the PERFECT example of what I mean about comedy. It cannot be taught, Any person on stage can say a comic line. It is the delivery, pace, timing, and facial expressions and that rare comedic gift that is embedded in truly talented comedic actors. This tiny girl is totally born with the comic gene, in abundance!

I’ve never, ever seen any girl in this role generate such side splitting laughs than Ms. O’Toole. The girl must have had a rim shot drum kit inserted in her brain because of the razor sharp comedic skills she displayed. There were scenes where the other actors literally had to hold because the audience was howling in laughter due to Ms. O’Toole’s performance. She had this slight lisp that gave the role another layer of laughs. But then she did this hilarious skip that became the perfect comic button for her exits. Her facial expressions were never over the top, or cutesy. She reacted with some of the best facial expressions on stage.

But that timing, pace, and delivery that this girl had was so rip roaring brilliant that you almost wonder if the theater owners shrunk Joan Rivers, Martha Raye, Eve Arden, and Kathy Griffin and molded them into this girl. But Miss O’Toole also had that rare talent to know when to pull back, especially in the second act. Her reactions and acting choices regarding the death of her grandmother will make you reach for Kleenex. She completely won me and the audience over. I plume adored her performance.

One of the best treats of being a critic is watching shows with new, unknown talent. It’s like finding a glittery gem that glistens and shines in blinding radiance.

Caroline Rivera as the “Witch” is just that dazzling bauble that I found in Saturday’s INTO THE WOODS. Where on earth has this amazing, talented, gorgeous woman been hiding?!

In past local productions I have seen several talented women tackle the role of the “Witch”. Once you have sat through Bernadette Peters original creation of that role (like I did), it is a TOUGH assignment to create a unique, original creation with the role.

Then there’s her songs. Big, massive soaring soprano notes that are composed with major high notes. Only Peters has been able to do it. In several local productions I’ve seen actresses tackle that score, but alas they go flat, cannot belt the notes thus singing these high notes in their head voice or falsetto, or force the high notes only to go completely off key.

Ms. Rivera is the first actress I have seen since Peters to actually hit the notes with a powerful-and I mean powerful belting soprano voice that NEVER once cracked, went off key, or lost strength. Those golden set of vocal pipes created resplendent music with every one of the witch’s arias. I was completely overblown by this magnificent voice that was encased in this raven haired beauty. Now add a layer of sterling acting choices within her characterization.

She provided the right dose of revolting, cruel, and scary emotions & speaking voice as the dark witch. Once she became all glamorous, she had a deep, sexy voice that fit her beauty like a glove. But when she was with her daughter and the outcome of the second act, Ms. Rivera is gut wrenching honest in her fury, revenge, and hatred of her loss.

Now Peters had some first rate comedic moments with the lines and
lyrics composed for her characer. Rivera steers clearly away from
the great Peters and actually finds her own set of great comedy
gold with those same lines and lyrics.

She generated some boisterous laughs with her comedic attack with this character. In a cast already full of stellar performances, Ms. Rivera gave such a breath taking, enchanting, powerful performance both vocally and in her acting that was in a word-mesmerizing.

There are so many highlights within the musical numbers, but for me there were some that achieved that status of show stoppers. Such as “Stay with Me”, sung by the witch (Rivera). This is my personal favorite song from the entire score. And Rivera did not disappoint. She acted and sang this solo with a compassionate mother pleading her daughter to stay with her, but then realizes how her own child disappoints, and Rivera channels that anger with sensational results. She belts and soars within the composition with superior results.

Other exceptional numbers include the aforementioned “Agony” (sung by Barrus & Adams): “Hello Little Girl” (Barrus); “On the Steps of the Palace (Cockerell); “I know Things Now” (O`Toole); “No More” (Phillips & Proctor); “Moment in the woods” (Browning); and “Lament” (again, Rivera).

One more stirring number was “No One is Alone” sung primarily by Phillips and Cockerell, with McIntosh and Ms. O’Toole joining in towards the end. Both Phillips and Cockerell really peeled into the lyrics to discover the rich subtext.

Two adults, one is now a widower the other has separated from her husband. Leaving both of them alone, one with a baby son.

Both actors commanded the song’s dramatic overtones with deeply touching emotion.

Plaza Theater Company completely blew my mind with this production. I honestly did not expect what transpired on that stage Saturday night.

Their production of INTO THE WOODS is spectacular in every department.
From the production values of design, the direction & staging, and that astounding cast.

Nothing impresses me more than seeing community theaters take an artistic risk in doing something outside of their norm and push their subscriber/patron base to watch material that is artistically complex.

PTC does cater and promote that they are a family friendly theater company. Their seasons are chock full of kid friendly shows. But then they add at least one show that challenges them on every level. With this production, they not only met the challenge, they exceeded it.

I guarantee that the drive to Cleburne is SOOOOOO worth the drive. Why? Because this production is a smashing marvel to watch. In fact, Plaza Theater Company’s INTO THE WOODS is so extraordinary & sensational that it can be compared and even surpass some of the equity musicals that have been produced this year.

REVIEWED by THE COLUMN’s Senior Chief Critic John Garcia

__________________________________________________________

INTO THE WOODS-Musical by Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine
Plaza Theatre Company
Through September 4, 2010

Advertisements