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‘Into the Woods’: A new take on old classics

Lauren Carter | 5/2/2012, 8:45 a.m.

A hen that lays golden eggs. A wolf with a healthy appetite and a few tricks up his sleeve. A wily old witch who casts a spell on her unsuspecting neighbors. And a cast of characters who come together in a place anything can happen: the woods.

The enchantment and mystery of the forest comes to life in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods,” part of a three-day run last week at Hibernian Hall presented by Mssng Lnks, an organization that develops educational and performance programs that link local arts organizations with urban neighborhoods.

“Into the Woods” intertwines characters from well-known tales including “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella,” and thrusts them in an entirely new direction when a baker and his wife try to start a family — but first, they have to lift a curse placed by a neighboring witch.

In order to reverse the curse, the couple must collect four ingredients for a magic potion: “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold” within three days. Thus, the hijinks ensue, connecting the characters in a mix of drama and comedy that often elicits bellows of laughter from the audience.

The play unites 16 teens with five professional actors, but the line between the two is blurred, if not erased. Executive Producer and Stage Director Sam Martinborough does a masterful job of grooming the young actors and vocalists into professional-caliber artists and giving the play a touch of the dignified and the avant-garde.

David Brown delivers a consistently amusing performance as a baker who has to tolerate harassment by an evil witch, occasional visits from a mysterious man in the woods and the constant demands of his wife, played by Anne Byrne.

Byrne, who has a master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory, delivers a musically stirring performance befitting of her training, while Xavier Lewis brings a convincing sense of innocence and naïveté to the role of Jack, who is forced to sell his beloved cow, Milky-White, in exchange for some magic beans.

In between dialogue and powerful individual and group musical numbers, narrator Trinidad Ramkissoon sets the scene for the audience with a grand, poised air.

None is more entertaining than the wicked witch, played by Jermaine Tulloch, a graduate of Boston Arts Academy who studied voice at the Longy Conservatory of Music.

Tulloch blends powerhouse vocals, piercing humor and acting chops that sparkles like the witch’s shimmering costume.

The play works well within its limits: two keyboardists provide diverse musical accompaniment, and the costumes look both appropriate and innovative, a mix of gowns, cloaks, smocks and elaborate masks that exuded personality.

The set is sparse but effective, with tree branches strewn about the hall and suspended from the ceiling, some with birds dangling from them, along with a large sun and tree perched onstage.

The stage is more of a backdrop than a central hub of activity. Most of the action takes place in the center of the hall, with the audience seated in a semi-circle around the actors, literally immersing the crowd in the story.

In his opening address to the audience, Martinborough, who founded Mssng Lnks in 2004, talks about “walking a tightrope” between being an educator and being a director.

He notes that five of the play’s eight major roles are performed by teens, four of whom have never held such large parts before, and costume designer Ebi Poweigha enjoys a first go-round at designing a show from top to bottom.

If much of the cast is entering new territory, though, it is not apparent. Martinborough seems to have found that elusive balance between striving for perfection and tolerating the mistakes and slip-ups that allow young performers to grow and blossom into polished professionals, amateurs into bona fide artists.


For more information about Mssng Lnks, visit www.mssnglnks.org.