Thursday, January 22, 2015

Into the Woods: The Empress Theatre


We all know the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel - complete with their evil nemeses.  But what happens when you flip these fairy tales on their heads?  Into the Woods happens, that's what.  Lucky for you, Nancy Jensen is directing a lovely production for audiences to see this inside-out tale at The Empress Theatre.

The opening number introduces us to all of the main characters (except the charming princes, who bound in just in time for some great comic relief) and introduces us their plights from wanting a child to wanting to escape to wanting money.  Jensen created a wonderful vision in this 3/4 of a theater-in-the-square.  

What I loved most about the show was the actors' dedication to their characters and roles.  I did not see a single person break character, even in light of other mistakes.  This is community theater, which means you enter with a certain reservation of expectations.  In this show, in spite of some actors being strong or weak in certain areas, everyone was quite good overall!  Trust me, I say that with a huge sigh of relief.  

I particularly enjoyed Cinderella's lovely soprano as she enchantingly sang to her origami birds, the youthful vigor of our actual teenager Little Red, and the over-the-top prancing of the charming princes.  

Our Narrator, Nathan Unck, truly helped us feel as if he were telling us a story that he was more than amused with.  He was excited to share the successes and plunders of each scene, wrapping us in to what part of the story he created for us next.  I've seen Unck perform before and this was my favorite role for him.  

Cinderella's Mother is a role that often gets left in the shadows, but Christin Saling performed with love and compassion while dressed in a beautiful gown.  I only wish that half the audience weren't missing out on her stunning face because of a tree branch blocking her.  

Skye Davis is a mature adult, yet used this adorable Pinocchio-esque character voice to successfully portray the youthful, adolescent Jack.  At first I thought it may grow old, but by the end of the show he had me chuckling every time he opened his mouth.  

As far as improvements, The Empress needs a new lighting and sound system.  They work so hard with what they have, however, I've not seen a show in recent memory, other than Addams Family, where the dark lighting and hard-to-adjust spotlights work (in reading my show notes, I mentioned the troublesome lighting four different times).  Often times actors were out of the spots and difficult to see.  The sound is spotty, so they accommodate through only mic'ing those who "need" it or are main roles.  The problem with this is that our ears have to readjust every time we switch from one to the other, or preventing us from hearing certain singing over the minus tracks.  I do prefer having to adjust my ears over the screeching and popping that occurs with some of the mics.  I truly feel the Empress could have much more community support with these technical issues resolved.  The historic theater and the talent deserve as much.     

The two biggest laughs of the evening came from our charming princes and Little Red's Granny.  During the reprise of "Agony," sung by Rapunzel's Prince, Geoffrey Greogry) and Cinderella's Prince (Christopher Kennedy).  Those two hammed it up, the lyrics hammed it up, and we ate it up entirely!  Thank you, men, for making us laugh.  Speaking of...another big big laugh of our came from reading the bio of Rapunzel's Prince/The Wolf, where he mentions he is single, ladies...again apparently.   Granny (Chalese Craig) was performed in a way I have never yet scene this typical "throw away character" played.  She was fierce - you just have to see her for yourself.   

Into the Woods is at the peak of popularity due to the recent cinematic release.  If you and your little ones enjoy the film, I highly recommend venturing to the empress to take in the live production.  They won't disappoint you and I promise you will leave with a smile on your face.  

Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office now through January 31 for $10.  For more information, visit The Empress Theatre's website here.  

Entire Cast List:   Narrator: Nathan Unck
Cinderella: Valerie Packer
Jack: Skye Davis
Jack's Mother: Jamie Crane
Baker: Brett Johnson
Baker's Wife: Sarah Johnson
Cinderella's Stepmother: Kimberly Wicker
Florinda: Sunny Watts
Lucinda: Melissa Head
Cinderella's Father: Perry Whitehair
Little Red: Alexis Shaw
Granny: Chalese Craig
Witch: Diane Nebeker
Cinderella's Mother/Giant: Christin Saling
Mysterious Man: Steve Hedman
Wolf/Rapunzel's Prince: Geoffrey Gregory
Cinderella's Prince: Chris Kennedy


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