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By Dana Casadei
Posted: Aug. 5, 2012 at 1:25 p.m.; updated Aug. 6, 2012 at 5:45 p.m.
Intermission: 10-15 minutes for the audience to stretch their legs, and for the actors to discuss how the first act went. Now I don't know what went on backstage during intermission at The AKT Theatre Project's "Into The Woods" opening night, but when the cast came back out it was if someone had lit a fire under them, becoming leaps and bounds better than anything Act One had produced.
The darker Act Two of the three-hour Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical, directed and choreographed by Angie Kane Ferrante, tells the story of what happens after happily-ever-after for many familiar fairy tale characters. The last five songs of the musical were the best executed, and "No One Is Alone" was easily my favorite of the night.
That song is a joy to watch, especially for the Baker (Jeremy St. Martin) and Cinderella (Sarah Noble), who each have many moments to shine in the simple ballad. The more eccentric numbers were OK to watch, but ballads like this trumped them.
I also really liked "Last Midnight" and "Children Will Listen," sung by the Witch (Leah Paige Cooley), making me forget all about how I was disappointed with her portrayal in Act One. The more I watched, though, I realized it wasn't Cooley that I had issues with; it goes back to the microphones, which I'll get to in a minute, and the mask she had on. But, spoiler alert, once the mask comes off, it's easy to see why she was cast: She is amazing, bringing chills and tears to this critic. Considering Broadway great Bernadette Peters originated the role in the 1987 Broadway production, Cooley has some rather large shoes to fill – and she does, doing Peters proud during those songs.
Act One, which was at times fun to watch, was left in the dust after seeing Act Two.
Act One, before everyone's wishes come true, had some serious sound/microphone issues, giving off at times a strange echo, and at others barely no sound at all, which started as soon as the show did, especially during the musical's opener "Into the Woods," which felt a little sloppy compared to what was to come.
It was almost impossible to hear Cinderella, Jack's Mother (Sheryl Noble) and the Witch at times, which is a real disappointment considering the talents that these three women show off in Act Two. There were also quite a few moments when the orchestra, lead by conductor and piano player David Waggoner, was far too over-powering, making it again hard to hear those on stage.
One of the few memorable moments of Act One was "It Takes Two," the duet between the Baker and his wife (Meg McCormick). St. Martin and McCormick were fun to watch and had great chemistry, even if she did at times overshadow his lovely baritone in the duet. While the duo works well together, they also have the ability to be rather fantastic alone, especially during Act Two's "Moments in the Woods" for McCormick and "No More" for St. Martin, each bringing much more than the humor that had been so pleasantly displayed in Act One and getting to really show off their range.
As for the rest of the many, many characters in the show, some were much more memorable than others.
Jack (Matt Miagzowicz) and Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Mikota) were nice surprises throughout, as were Rapunzel (Dara Pardon) and Jack's Mother. Miagzowicz has a very smooth voice that I wasn't expecting, and Mikota was easily one of my favorites and a comic relief even in some of the show's darkest moments. Pardon only got to sing a few times, but with such a powerful voice it wasn't one that you forgot; I just wished that I could have heard more of it. Noble, who instantly reminded me of character actress Edie McClurg, is over the type and hysterical but in the best way possible.
While there were some definite differences between Acts One and Two, there were two things that connected them: Cal Schwartz's costumes and Ferrante's set, each which were in one word, incredible. Schwartz really knew these characters, making each outfit as authentic as the last, and each being torn and dirty when need be, not leaving any look too pretty after they had spent some time in, well, not the most pleasant places. Ferrante's set was not only one of the largest I've ever seen, but it made it easy for viewers to quickly be taken from town to woods, and everything in between.
This production of "Into The Woods" may not be the best revival of the musical, but if the technical issues can be fixed it has the ability to not put viewers in "Agony," but make them "So Happy."
SHOW DETAILS: The AKT Theatre Project's "Into the Woods" continues at The Wyandotte Arts Center, 81 Chestnut Road, Wyandotte, Aug. 5, 10 & 11. Tickets: $10. For information: 734-258-8370 or www.AKTtheatre.com.
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