Twice Upon A Time
By R. J. Donovan
The Reagle Players, under the watchful eye of Executive Producer Robert Eagle, have returned for a 42nd season, this time with a new name -- Reagle Music Theatre. The first production of their trio of summer shows is the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical "Into The Woods." Once again, Reagle comes through with a heartfelt production, delivered by a bright and talented cast.
"Into The Woods" first saw the lights of Broadway in 1987. Taking a collection of familiar fairy tale characters, Sondheim and Lapine intermingled the stories while giving audiences the inside dirt on what happened after the staid "Happily Ever After" endings. The result is a clever and highly entertaining exploration of wishes and consequences.
Act One introduces the characters we all know and love as they pursue their own preoccupations. Act Two takes a darker turn as we learn how their actions have led them to places we never heard about in our bedtime stories.
Led by a Narrator (Boston's affable Scott Wahle, at left), the storyline begins with a Baker and his Wife longing for a child. A spell has been placed on them, rendering them childless. Once they discover how to reverse the curse (placed on them by The Witch next door), the show is off and running.
Little Red Riding Hood stops into the bakery to pick up a few sweets on her way to Granny's house. Cinderella, who longs to escape her Stepmother and go to the ball, subsequently meets the Baker and his Wife in her travels. Rapunzel turns out to be the daughter of the Witch, who overprotects her from the world. And Jack, of The Beanstalk fame, wreaks havoc when the wife of the Giant he steals from comes stomping after them all.
Not all the characters survive the second act, but those who do rely on each other to build a new life for themselves. They all learn the valuable lesson that actions have consequences. And responsibilities. And to be careful what you wish for.
Rachel York (at left), who plays The Witch, returns to Reagle following her run last summer starring in "Hello, Dolly!" Ugly in the first act and stunning in the second, York is beautiful throughout, singing with power and finessing the role's quirky humor quite nicely. As the story draws to a close, she details the parent-child dynamic in "Children Will Listen," underscoring the idea that you must think before you speak.
As Cinderella, McCaela Donovan (at left) brings wonderful shading to the role, yearning for a life beyond the cinders, only to grow bored when she finally gets the family she thought she wanted. With a sparkling voice (particularly in "On The Steps of the Palace" and the moving "No One Is Alone"), Donovan (no relation, by the way) also scores with the humor, delivering her lines with a subtly that only enhances the joke.
The Baker (Douglas Jabara) and his Wife (Shannon Lee Jones) seem to be the throw away characters in the beginning, as they're the two with whom we are least familiar. However, the pair grows on you as the story unfolds, with Jabara rising to the head of the class by the time he delivers the moving "No More" near the end of the second act. His efforts were rightfully met with thunderous applause.
As Jack, Gregory Isaac Stone is all awkward, pigeon-toed simplicity as he loses his best friend, a sickly cow, for a handful of magic beans. Stone does a particularly nice job with his soaring solo, "Giants In The Sky."
Allison Russell, as Red Riding Hood, brings a wink to the role that gives the character a prissy wisdom beyond her years. Her solo spot is the funny and reflective "I Know Things Now."
Overall, this is a show that requires you to listen carefully as a lot of the tongue-twisting lyrics can easily fly by. That said, the cast succeeds in crisp presentation, although Ayal Miodovnik, was hampered by a full face mask when he was playing the leering Wolf. He later returned to play Cinderella's Prince and was saddled with a body mike that didn't help. Happily, after intermission, his muddled sound problem had been resolved. As the smarmy Prince (a precursor to the preening Gaston of "Beauty And The Beast"), Miodovnik has one of the funniest lines of the play when he announces that he was bred "to be charming, not sincere."
Director Stacey Stephens (who joins Reagle this season as Associate Producer / Artistic Director), tackles the task of maneuvering a sizable cast with ease. The production is consistently fluid but always focused, creating lovely pictures on stage. A man of many talents, he also designed the show's costuming. On that note: his colorful outfit for The Witch in the first act cleverly plays against the ugly stereotype while hinting at who she really is; her red gown (once she's transformed) is a knockout; and the shimmering ball gown for Cinderella avoids going over the top while providing contrast for the pragmatic side of the character.
A tip of the hat as well to set designer Janie Howland who captures the storybook feeling with calligraphy on giant parchment pages, which, upon closer examination, contain the text from "Hansel & Gretel" ( . . . a nice touch).
And so Reagle kicks off the season with another winner. Meanwhile, Scott Wahle, a man for all seasons, returns July 15 - 25 to star as Harold Hill in "The Music Man." His Marian will be Reagle favorite, Sarah Pfisterer. The third and final production of the summer, "Hairspray," opens August 12.
"Into The Woods," from Reagle Music Theatre, at Robinson Theatre in Waltham through June 27. For information, call 781-891-5600.
-- OnStage Boston
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