Oh and what a lovely journey it is. I’ve seen “Into the Woods” multiple times. My first was on Broadway with Vanessa Williams as the witch. It was and always will be a masterpiece. There was buzz that Mu Performing Arts Theater had changed some pieces and made it their own. I would soon find out the wonderful treasure they had hidden up their sleeve.
When walking into the Park Square Theater the stage was set with Asian flare. I knew this would not be a traditional “Into the Woods” piece and I was looking forward to seeing how Mu Performing Arts would add their own flavor. When the music started and the actors walked on stage, they were dressed in kimonos, skirts, and other traditional Asian outfits. It was a fresh new approach to a brilliant musical and I knew right away I was in for a treat.
Stephen Sondheim is a genius. Let’s meditate on that for a moment. His lyrics are catchy and emotionally charged. Jack’s song “Giants in the Sky” is quick because it is a train of thought piece. Maxwell Chonk Thao sang it beautifully. His belting tone was top notch as well as his acting like a young boy. “In No One is Alone” the lyrics state “Sometimes people leave you, half-way through the wood. Others may deceive you. You decide what’s good. You decide alone. But no one is alone” Everyone can relate to the song because each person at one point or another in their life feels alone. When a song can tug on your heart, the writer has done his job. This song allowed the audience connection to the characters. Sara Ochs who played Cinderella was wonderful. Her facial expressions were a class above the rest. She was always spot on and if you took away everything you would still know what was happening because you could read it on her face. There are few actors who possess that gift and she is one.
The cast was small but mighty. With twenty people in total you must have a strong ensemble. Mu cast the roles very well and everyone moved and sang well together. During the Act 1 finale: “Ever After” they added traditional Asian dance moves to the song. It gave a new vibe to the show that was welcomed by the audience. Each character had purpose and was strong in their role. The princes were the comic relief of the show and very funny. Everyone laughed at their “Agony” songs. During the bows everyone stood up quickly to give a standing ovation. At a Sunday matinee it is not always easy to get interaction so this was a pleasant surprise. Clearly the actors had done their part and performed a wonderful show.
“Into the Woods” is playing at the Park Square Theater from now through August 5th. The show is suitable for children and adults and involves fairy tale stories that people of any age can relate to. For more information check out the Mu Performing Arts website: http://www.muperformingarts.org/