Review: A delightful ‘Into the Woods’ at Theatre UAB

Peyton Griffin is Jack in Theatre UAB’s “Into the Wood.” (Photo by Taylor Campbell)

If “Into the Woods” is set out of the woods, is it still “Into the Woods”?

In the case of Theatre UAB’s charming and talent-filled production running through this weekend, the answer is a resounding yes.

Set for some inexplicable reason at a Birmingham landmark, “Into the Woods” may not have the trees and leaves and dirt paths of previous productions, but it has an ultra-talented cast, a beautiful set and some of the best lighting I’ve seen in any college production.

“Into the Woods” is Stephen Sondheim’s and book writer James Lapine’s 1987 musical, a mashup of Brothers Grimm fairy tales and characters, including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack (and his beanstalk) and Cinderella.

The plot centers on a baker and his wife and their desire to have a child. The witch next door, though, has placed a curse on them, and to lift the curse and bear a child, they’ve got to gather certain items in the enchanted woods inhabited by fairy tale characters.

It’s clever, dark and funny, everything you’d expect a Sondheim musical to be.

It’s also extraordinarily difficult to do well, but this UAB Theatre production is among the best I’ve seen. Director Valerie Accetta and Musical Director Carolyn Violi, along with scenic designer Alan E. Schwanke, lighting designer Kelly Allison, costume designer Sharon Morgan and hair and makeup designer McKenna Shaw, should be proud.

They’ve put together a fine group of singers, singers who not only hit the notes, but enunciate the words wonderfully. This is particularly important with something like “Into the Woods,” as the rat-a-tat-tat lyrics often are relaying key plot points. (Kudos to sound designer Jay Tumminello for helping with that, too).

The large cast – and forgive me for listing them all, but they deserve it – is led by Jalen Kirkman as the Baker, Morgan Tapp as the Baker’s Wife, McKenna Shaw as the Witch, Travis Settoon as the Narrator, Rosie Coryell as Cinderella, Peyton Griffin as Jack, Abigail Coats as Jack’s Mother, Jason Torrey as the Wolf, Deztonie Cunningham as Little Red Riding Hood, George Barreto as the Mysterious Man, Ryan J. Charest and Matthew Piper as the two princes, Kara Ann Scullin as Rapunzel, Cooper Ellis as Cinderella’s Stepmother and Victoria Chaves and Hannah Fulmore as her stepsisters.

Others in smaller roles included Sammy Sledd, Samantha Robinson, Caden Harris, Cara Parisi, Jarrett Sparks, Brandon Marquez, Rose McClanahan and Devin Towery.

The show is filled with highlights, from Tapp’s “Moments in the Woods,” which includes some of Sondheim’s best lyrics; to the Charest and Piper and the princes’ hysterical “Agony”; to Shaw’s plaintive “Stay With Me”; to Cunningham’s deadpan delivery as Little Red Riding Hood. And special mention must be made of Peyton Griffin, whose Jack, and whose “Giants in the Sky,” may be the best I’ve seen and heard.

The able orchestra, under Violi’s direction, includes Greg Lucero, Matthew Barron, James Zingara, Kerrig Kelly, Patricia Pilon, Richard Byrd, Anthony Smith, Sarah Freed and Justin Wallace.

“Into the Woods,” particularly its first act, is still a little long, and some of the staging, such as the shadow-puppet treatment of the scene between the Wolf and Little Red’s grandmother, doesn’t quit hit the mark, but most of this production hits the bull’s-eye.

This isn’t an easy musical to pull off, but Theatre UAB has an exquisite production on its hands.

“Into the Woods,” at Theatre UAB through April 16. Buy tickets here.

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