Tantallon Community Players Into The WoodsBy Bob Ashby • Jun 5th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Tantallon Community Players
Harmony Hall Regional Center, Ft. Washington, MD
Through June 12th
3:05 with one intermission
$15/$12 Students and Seniors
Reviewed June 4th, 2011
G.K. Chesterton once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Into the Woods – Stephen Sondheim at his sweetest and most accessible — is eminently worth doing. Community theater groups with limited resources deserve credit for taking on challenging works, giving actors and technicians the opportunity to measure themselves against the significant demands of the plays they attempt. Tantallon Community Players’ try at the show has some successful moments, but the production frequently underlines the perils of biting off more than a group can chew.
Sondheim is notoriously difficult for singers, and, particularly in the first act, missed notes and failures to maintain pitch were all too common. The pace of the singing and acting in that act was noticeably slow, lengthening the time needed to tell the interlocking stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), and other well-known fairy tale characters, who interact with, among others, a narrator, a baker and his wife, and the neighborhood witch.
Things got better in the second act, with the baker (Lance Adell), witch (Sasha Miceli), and Cinderella (Valerie Holt) all singing effectively such songs as “The Last Midnight,” “No More,” “No One is Alone,” and “Children Will Listen.” These songs are the emotional core of Into the Woods, when the first act’s spinning out of familiar stories has darkened into a take of danger, tragedy, moral ambiguity, and survival, and the singers’ renditions were often touching.
In Community Theater, a director often lacks the luxury of being able to select among actors who are fully equipped for the roles they play. Holt, as Cinderella, and Robert Rausch, as the narrator/mysterious man, were the only members of the cast whose acting and singing were both completely up to the task. Others got part, but not all, of the job done. As Jack, 7th grader Greg Kenny captured the essential dorkiness of his character, but his voice has not matured to the point of being able to put across “Giants in the Sky.” Besides singing well, Miceli looked fetching in her second act glamour dress, but her spoken lines as the witch were often so high-pitched and shrill as to be incomprehensible. Adell chose to play an unusually diffident baker, and his generally adept singing was marred by an indulgent taking of a high note Sondheim never wrote at the end of “No More.”
As Cinderella’s prince, Charles Whatley was appropriately tall and handsome, and he conveyed well the shallowness of his “charming, not sincere” character. His squeamishness at the sight of the evil stepsisters’ bloody feet was a particularly nice touch. He lacks the vocal strength for an ideal rendition of “Agony,” but he had the savvy to avoid over singing. Kenneth Walters nailed the hunger and lechery of the wolf, but not his song, “Hello Little Girl.” Lani Novak Howe was well-suited to the mostly non-singing character role of Jack’s difficult mother. While she sang and acted adequately, Lauren Bloom, unfortunately, was not age-appropriate for the important role of the baker’s wife.
Group founder/director/choreographer/set designer Charla Rowe made some odd choices, notably in using little girls in ballet costumes to represent Cinderella’s birds (who normally are simply sound and visual effects). They enter periodically, wave their arms while saying “tweet,” and peck out three characters’ eyes. This choice was a distracting bow to community theater cutesiness that undermined the feeling of several scenes. Likewise, Rowe seemed to put Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother on invisible treadmills, so consistently were they jogging their way trough their roles.
Harmony Hall Regional Center in Ft. Washington, Maryland, provides a tricky space to mount a show. The deep stage, designed for concerts rather than theater, has no wing space and only two exit doors, both far upstage. Rowe’s work-around consisted of black flats along the sides of the stage, which did not succeed in masking entrances and exits. The portable units for the baker’s oven, Jack’s house, and other set pieces were built and painted in a rather amateurish, high-school show sort of way. The design and execution of the lighting can only be called dreadful. Cold spots that left actors in poor light and ill-timed cues abounded. The narrator, positioned downstage right, was a particular victim, suffering on-and-off illumination by a badly focused, harsh, blue-white follow spot. Why lights would remain at full brightness for an evening scene, despite a character singing “hard to see the light now,” is a mystery.
By contrast, costuming (especially for the witch, Cinderella, and Cinderella’s prince) and hair were done well, though the mysterious man’s prop beard appeared at different angles in different scenes and went missing altogether at one point. There were also some prop successes, notably the prince’s large, wheeled hobby horse and the slain giant’s head, though why the prince’s steward’s staff was topped in one scene by what appeared to be a cutout of a large cigarette lighter is a another mystery.
I think I was born singing. From Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944 to high school graduation, I was labeled “with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall make music wherever she goes.” Luckily, being taught by excellent instructors on the campus of Berea College in central Kentucky, I was exposed to drama, art, dance, piano and voice, and infused with the desire to live a life of rehearsal and performance. Along the way, I found the life-changing joy of teaching and directing children, which in turn gave order and fulfillment to the disparate segments of my life as a wife, mother and performer. Indeed, theatre has given me a taste of an authentic artistic mission! So, it isn’t surprising that when I realized that many of TCP’s young performers would be graduating from High School and College this year, that they would need a special play we could all do together one last time. They’re too grown to play Von Trapp children or Annie’s orphans again, so, despite having produced Into the Woods 15 years ago, I decided to remount Woods for our Spring show. How could I not? This is, after all, a compilation of the various stories of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” set in a humorous musical way (with a moral of course) to guide the young on their paths to adulthood (it takes a village). Inadvertently, our production allows us to participate in the current display of all things Sondheim: Follies at the Kennedy Center, and Side by Side by Sondheim at Signature Theatre, among others. How grateful I am to be a part of this talented and loving cast and crew, who have become like my family–and to celebrate Sondheim in all his creative life lessons.
And to you, dear TCP supporters, thank you for letting me sing Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” once again. Because of you, we all are.
Enjoy, Charla Rowe
Photos provided by the Tantallon Community Players
Cast of Characters
- Narrator: Robert Tausch
- Cinderella: Valerie Holt
- Jack: Greg Kenney
- Jack’s Mother: Lani Novak Howe
- Baker: Lance Adell
- Baker’s Wife: Lauren Bloom
- Cinderella’s Stepmother: Kitty Harger
- Little Red Riding Hood: Aimee Bonnet
- Witch: Sasha Miceli
- Cinderella’s Mother: Emmaline Taylor
- Mysterious Man: Robert Rausch
- Wolf: Kenny Waters
- Granny: Mari Davis
- Rapunzel: Alexzandra Heilmeier
- Rapunzel’s Prince: Charles Watley
- Cinderella’s Prince: Xandra Weaver
- Steward: Scott Orloff
- Snow White: Haley Luense
- Sleeping Beauty: Shemika Berry
- Birds: Alyssa Berry, Liana Berry, Tatyana Bloom, Liza Bloom, Lillian Orloff
- Director: Charla Rowe
- Producer: Leslie Luense
- Assistant Producer: Robert Rausch
- Stage Manager: John Battersby
- Music Director: Dave Monk
- Choreographer: Charla Rowe
- Set Design: Charla Rowe
- Lighting Design: Sheryl Fry
- Sound Design: David C. Weaver
- Sound and Light Operators: Harmony Hall Staff
- House Manager: Pat Bonnet
- Costumes: Debbie Miceli, Lauren Bloom
- Hair/Make-up: Shemika Berry, Xandr Weaver
- Publicity: Larry Carbaugh, Dramatic Works Theater and Promotions
- Props: Lauren Bloom, Debbie Miceli, Jamie Hamilton
- Set Painting/Dressing: Marilyn Weaver, Larry Carbaugh, Scott Orloff, Cast
- Set Construction: Foreman Mark Holt
- Crew: George Roff, Larry Carbaugh, Scott Orloff, Greg Kenney
- Orchestra: Cheri Daniels Monk, Tara Derr, Leah Farris, Susan Lewke, Ben Stern, Heidi Mickey, Mike Mickey, Tom Valdez, Dotson Burns Jr., Beth Lincoln, Will Derr
Disclaimer: Tantallon Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6892.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.