Chaminade University Performing Arts' ‘Into the Woods’ Loses its Way
As an extreme advocate for the arts, especially local theatre, I always try to find time to support various productions mounted across the island. The majority of shows I see are often high-caliber, spectacular productions, while some falter along the way. While I love the musical Into the Woods and greatly admire, respect, and am friends with many of the actors in Chaminade University Performing Arts' (CUPA) production, its production of Into the Woods appeared as somewhat lackluster with only a couple of rewarding moments.
Into the Woods follows the story of intertwined fairy tale characters, namely Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and Rapunzel, all of whom vie to attain certain wishes. Adding to the crop of fairy-tale icons are a Baker and his barren wife, a conniving witch, and two Prince Charmings. At the end of act 1, all characters receive what they wish, but act 2 focuses on the ramifications of the saying “Be careful of what you wish for,” as well as its didactic nature. While the storyline is compelling, CUPA’s overall production was not entirely.
Imbued with many seasoned actors who grace the various stages across town--Dusty Behner (Grandmother); Callie Doan (Baker’s Wife); Michal Nowicki (Wolf/Rapunzel’s Prince); Liz Stone (Cinderella’s Stepmother); Kira Stone (Milky White/Sleeping Beauty)--they all succeed in their roles, while other actors seem to strive to reach the notes of their songs rather than search for the emotional depth within the song’s lyrics and the character’s struggle. For a few actors, it felt as though they relied on their operatic background to tell the story rather than adapt to the storytelling of a musical production. Into the Woods contains a plethora of moral dilemmas and interpersonal struggles, and the relational pathos, the majority of the time, did not convey. Furthermore, as it was opening night, those involved with theatre all know anything can happen and that mistakes are prone to occur. This was indeed the case. However, there were many technical missteps that essentially distracted from the storytelling: late microphone cues and actors coming on stage with no lighting for a while. While I know that 110% effort went in to the mounting of this production, it overall felt like a rehearsal. Additionally, the choreography felt a bit simplistic and not dynamic enough to help tell the ultimate story. Overall, it would be safe to say as though it felt like many seasoned, adult actors were part of a very well-done high school production.
All this naysaying cannot fly without the mentioning of the two standout components of the show, though. Saoirse Rhyn, who plays Little Red Riding Hood, gives a spectacular performance that steals the show. Her acting and singing are effortless, and her acting for a young lady in high school is comparable to the practiced, masterful actors that grace many local stages today. She does not try to gain laughs or sympathy; instead, her acting is so inherent that she undoubtedly provides the best performance of the entire ensemble. Furthermore, it is very laudatory that the director cast Ethan Street, an actor who just happens to have Down Syndrome, to play Cinderella’s Prince’s Squire. He has no speaking lines, but the fact that an actor that one would not normally see on stage was cast is an action deserving ultimate kudos.
As mentioned, I greatly support and advocate local theatre and always try to enjoy and appreciate every show for what it’s worth. I have many friends within the cast of CUPA’s Into the Woods, but, being that it is my duty to provide honest reviews for HTS, I simply cannot circumvent my honest take on the show. Indeed, there were the noted admirable aspects of the show, but the overall production faltered in its technical difficulties as well as the singing that felt as though it could have been conveyed more effectively in terms of telling the story and finding the emotions, rather than striving to hit the notes. But, this is my honest opinion. Go support the arts and see for yourself!
Into the Woods opening this past Friday and has a six-show run at Mamiya Theatre through April 9.