Into the Woods – West Chester East High School in West Chester, PA
February 29, 2016
Review by: Mary Liz White of Bordentown Regional High School
Once upon a time, a high school tried their hand at a very ambitious musical – and succeeded. West Chester East Theater Company’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods – popularized on Broadway and, most recently, on the big screen – is a testament to the determination and hard work of the students involved. The show features a willing cast, a whimsical set, and a few charming comedic touches to make Into the Woods its own.
The storyline revolves around a Baker and his Wife and their quest to undo a curse and conceive a child, intermingling and warping various fairytales along the way. In the role of Baker’s Wife, Katie Quinn, whose strong, clear pipes and intimate moments with the Baker (Liam Dorsey), provides an excellent framework for the production. The nuances of her performance paired with that of the very capable Jamie Cohen as the mysterious and omnipotent Witch, give the show an extra kick. And in the most energetic number of the show, “Agony,” JV Saddic and Josue Aviles seamlessly inhabit the roles of the two playboy Princes. As Jack’s Mother, Allie Voehringer boasts mature vocals and character acting that function as a delightful foil to her son, simpleton Jack (Drew Comer). Azim Williams (the Wolf) and Anna Carroll (Little Red) also earn nods for their chemistry together, particularly in the sinister but irresistible “Hello Little Girl.”
Considering Into the Woods was originally staged with no ensemble, West Chester East incorporates a chorus well, parsing out transitional narrator lines and cleverly incorporating cast members as a living tree, swaying wildflowers, and other woodland curiosities. Some unscripted flourishes, such as the Three Little Pigs leaping out of the belly of the slain Wolf, are particularly successful.
Any magical journey is bound to encounter some bumps in the road, and the production’s microphones do have an echoing, tinny quality through which the cast gracefully overcomes. Lighting, too, could be handled with more creativity, but there is some commendable spotlight work. The costumes are stunning – case in point: the gowns worn by Cinderella (Georgia Naples) – especially posed next to the all-black apparel of the ensemble and minimalist makeup. The cast works well with the beautiful storybook set, particularly considering the show’s fast pace.
Into the Woods is a tall order, but West Chester East is game. With effort and enthusiasm, they earn their happily ever after – no spells or magic wands required.
Review by: Eli Russell of Abington Friends School
Like many great stories, West Chester East Theatre Company’s production of Into the Woods began with four simple words: “once upon a time”. After the spell was cast, the talented actors and technicians at West Chester East transported the audience to a land of magic, mystery, and mayhem.
The musical Into the Woods intertwines several beloved fairy tales. While the first act is a cheerful medley of favorite storybook characters, the somber second act focuses on life – and death – after “happily ever after.” The musical, which boasts music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, premiered on Broadway in 1987. Since then, it has seen a successful film adaptation, multiple revivals, and countless regional productions around the world.
West Chester East’s production of Into the Woods was anchored by strong lead performances. As the Witch, Jamie Cohen enchanted the audience with her consistently superb vocals and commendable stage presence. Liam Dorsey and Katie Quinn shared good chemistry as the Baker and the Baker’s Wife. Quinn showcased her lovely voice and acting chops during the lyrically complex number “Moments in the Woods.”
In the supporting cast, Anna Carroll filled the auditorium with energy whenever she skipped across the stage as Little Red Riding Hood. Allie Voehringer, who played Jack’s Mother, deserves praise for transforming an often overlooked character into a genuine show-stopper. Josue Aviles and JV Saddic stole the show as two princes who were raised to be “charming, not sincere.” Their infectious energy and impressive comedic timing during the melodramatic “Agony” brought the house down. Although the cast as a whole occasionally lacked confidence at the beginning of the show, the energy improved as the show progressed.
Solid technical elements bolstered the production. A splendid student orchestra brought Sondheim’s intricate score to life, while a group of make-up artists transformed Jamie Cohen into a hideous witch and Azim Williams into a predatory wolf. The sound sometimes struggled to balance multiple microphones, but for the most part all of the performers could be heard.
Overall, the students at West Chester East put on a laudable production of a difficult musical. Along the way, they created plenty of magical moments for the audience to savor. In the words of the Baker’s Wife, “let the moment go… don’t forget it for a moment, though.”