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Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Into the Woods
A Sondheim Fairy-tale Favorite Opens in Goldsboro
Center Stage Theatre

Review by Garrett Southerland


Susan Leigh, Sara Potter, and Michael Manning
Photo by Keagan Kermode
As my favorite lyric from one of the songs in Into the Woods goes, "Best to take the moment present / As a present for the moment." That is just what audiences in Goldsboro, North Carolina, do as Center Stage Theatre launches its 2016-2017 season at the Paramount Theatre with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical of fairy tales gone awry.

Into the Woods follows some well-known fairy-tale characters and adds two new ones, a childless baker and his wife. All have something they desperately wish to have. Whether it is to go to the festival, feed the family, or have a child, each is sent on a quest through the woods where they cross paths. As another Sondheim lyric beautifully reminds us, "Careful the wish you make / Wishes come true." Even as the characters get their wishes, the happy endings unravel in the second act, which mingles fantasy with reality.

The set (Michael Manning) is beautifully done and tastefully used by director Michael Manning. Entering the theatre, you are greeted by the sounds of birds chirping and a dense forest of trees, rocks, and flowers. There is a tower for Rapunzel to the left, Cinderella's mother's tree to the right, and a multipurpose tree in the middle, very effectively used in the Little Red Riding Hood scene as doors open to a shadow puppet sequence in Grandmother's cottage. There is an amazing attention-getting special effect at the end of act one that gives this production a feeling of professionalism.

Stand-out performances include Beckah Shimer as Cinderella and Emily Polashek as Rapunzel, both of whom have beautiful soprano voices. The two princes are played by spot-on baritones Jim Grant and John Grantham. Wanda Becton does a wonderful job as our motherly storyteller, the Narrator; her beautiful soprano voice is also put to use as Cinderella's mother. Emma Herlong, Keagan Kermode, and Allayna Decker as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and Red's Grandmother, respectively, add perfect comedic and childlike tones to their characters. Special note to Kermode, who, with his deadpan awkwardness as Jack, gives us a character who is clearly a bit "touched." The show in its original Broadway run made a star out of Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife, and in this production Sara Potter makes great use of her moments of character, dialogue, and lyric.

The costumes by Donna Forehand are nicely done, though there are times it seems the production is a bit confused as to whether it wants to be traditional, contemporary, or even cartoonish in dress. This show relies more on staging than choreography, and I found it a somewhat confusing choice to incorporate sign language into the movement. As with all Sondheim shows, the lyrics are essential to the enjoyment, and some lyrics at the performance I attended were missed because of microphone issues or delivery.

Overall, this production offers laughter, tears, familiar stories, and beautiful songs. I never thought to look at my watch during the three-hour running time (with a fifteen minute intermission). Goldsboro has a gem of a theatre company in Center Stage, who, in its thirty-nine years, seems only to have gotten better with age.

Into the Woods by Center Stage theatre will be presented at the Paramount Theatre in Goldsboro, NC. 139 S. Center St. Goldsboro, NC 27530, through September 18th, 2016. Tickets are $15-18 and can be purchased online at www.goldsboroparamount.com or by phone at 919-583-8432. For more information, visit cstheatre.org.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Director: Michael Manning
Musical Director: Jayson Keeton
Choreography: Keagan Kermode
Narrator: Wanda Becton
Cinderella: Beckah Shimer
Jack: Keagan Kermode
Milky White: Olivia Durfey
Baker: Michael Manning
Baker's Wife: Sara Potter
Cinderella's Stepmother: Tyanna Yonkerrs
Florinda: Michael Elisabeth Adams
Lucinda: Isabelle Rose Moore
Jack's Mother: Linda Sampson
Little Red Ridinghood: Emma Herlong
Witch: Susan Leigh
Cinderella's Mother: Wanda Becton
Mysterious Man: Clifton Cuddington
Wolf: Eli Bradley
Rapunzel: Emily Polashek
Rapunzel's Prince: John Grantham
Grandmother: Allayna Decker
Cinderella's Prince: Jim Grant
Steward: Vincent Bridgers
Giant: Vincent Bridgers
Harp: Cassie Erdmann


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