Review: With stunning music, acting and choreography, ‘Into the Woods’ has it all

After finally seeing Into the Woods — it’s been on my bucket list for a while now — it both met and exceeded my expectations. The play honors the classic fairy tale stories like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, but also gives each character a more modern take on their traditional outfit, speech and general personality.

The music is catchy, fun and quick, and audience members were sitting on the edge of their seats trying to hear all they can with the overlapping songs and fast-paced scenes. With a stationary set, the cast made the whole theater feel like the woods, by moving around and walking down the aisles and interacting with members of the audience.

Into the Woods is about a baker and his wife who, after finding out a witch has cursed them from having children, set off to defeat the curse, but end up running into plenty of obstacles and fairy tale characters along the way.

Set to a fast-paced beat, the music of the show all rings pretty similar throughout, but with some slower and softer songs here and there. The quick beat grips the audience into the chaos of all the characters’ lives occurring simultaneously in the woods. A hilarious and sassy narrator (Greg Rogers) appears in the beginning to tell the story, and in almost every scene to push the story along.

A giant staircase takes up most of the stage and there are multiple levels where multiple storylines can take place at the same time, with a shift of the spotlight. The live band is seated under the staircase and excelled in its performance, with the strong instruments leading the mood and story of the musical. The cast made excellent use of the space by holding props in some scenes and really using the classic tools of community theater to give each scene proper detail.

Easily, the greatest performer in this show is the Baker’s wife (Molly Jones-Horton), whose outstanding vocal performance brought the audience to applause many times, with whispers all around, “She’s good.” The Baker’s wife goes through many challenges along with the other characters, and seems to have many lessons learned, both good and bad. Throughout the show, she develops from a scared wife into a more mature and thoughtful woman and mother.

The Witch (Kelly Carey) is another top-notch main character who interacts with all of the different characters in the story. Her costumes were detailed and convincing and she proved her vocal talent in multiple numbers. Carey’s part was essential to leading the story and helping to develop the other characters.

One of the first fairy tale characters we see is Cinderella (Kayleigh Kuklewski), who lives with her father and evil stepmother and stepsisters — who we can easily see as modern versions of themselves because they are constantly taking selfies and looking at their cell phones. Kuklewski did an outstanding job with a voice that fits perfectly for her character: sweet, soft and high in range.

Then, in comes Little Red Riding Hood (Ashley Isenhoff) on her red scooter, a classic tomboy riding off to see her granny in the woods. The wolf (Derek Call) is more comparable to a male predator-type and lurks around her, following the classic story. Isenhoff’s performance was loved by all, and she rose to meet all the expectations and more. Throughout the story, she becomes a central character in helping the baker and his wife complete their journey. With her on-point wit and facial expressions, she was both amusing and captivating throughout the show.

We also see young Jack (Benjamin Lowen) from Jack and the Beanstalk. His mother (Caitlin Cusack) instantly shows the audience her amazing vocal range and beautiful voice. Both characters work in harmony, along with the hilarious addition of Milky White the cow (Laura Bullen). Bullen carries a cow prop around for the entire show and the audience clearly got a kick out of it.

Finally, the two Prince Charmings (Call and Michael Stewart II) played their parts to a T, capturing a more modern version of a prince who really is just in it for the chase, and is not so charming at all. Their song “Agony” (which also makes a reprise in the second act) shows the actors’ impressive vocal talent and how well they harmonize and interact with each other on stage.

It was visually stunning to see all the characters interact on stage through the careful and detailed choreography, especially how Little Red scootered seamlessly through the various people dancing on stage. The choreography and even small hand movements perfectly fell in line with the songs and beat of the music.

The first act of the show ended nicely in a fairy tale fashion, and if the audience didn’t know any better, they would have left during the intermission thinking it was over. But, the two-hour-and-40 minute show carries on into a second act, that breaks more of the classic fairy tale rules. The characters break the fourth wall and confront the narrator in the opening scene. Then, when the characters remove the narrator, no one is there to guide the story and, symbolically, all chaos ensues.

A couple loose ends are what leave the audience wanting answers after they leave the theater. Characters die, fight giants and break promises. It all happens very quickly, and the audience can be left hanging a little on what actually happens/happened. Additionally, Rapunzel (Alyssa Veldman) has very little lines beyond crying, singing and losing a piece of her hair. Snow White (Lily Karasinski) is seen throughout the show but has no lines, and Sleeping Beauty (Bullen) is mentioned in the cast but is not seen at all.

However, I would consider this show a classic family musical, with catchy music, witty and quick humor and bounds of talent in all areas. It’s definitely a must-see for any fairy tale lover, young and old.

Into the Woods
Circle Theatre
1703 Robinson Rd. SE, Grand Rapids
May 3-19, $26+