Philelectic Society Offers Fairytale Delights with Into the Woods
By Theodore P. Mahne
It has been a year of fairy-tale stories for the Jesuit Philelectic Society. Earlier this year, the troupe presented a rollicking production of “Shrek: The Musical” and the senior-directed One Act Play Festival included the storybook parody, “Game of Tiaras.”
For its spring production, the drama society turns to “Into the Woods,” in which composer Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine take a fractured fairy tale approach to the classic stories. In blending the tales of characters together – ranging from Cinderella to Red Riding Hood to Jack (of beanstalk fame) – the musical imagines what happened after “happily ever after.” Remember, the Brothers Grimm often were quite grim, indeed!
Like those childhood tales of old, the success of “Into the Woods” comes from the universality of the messages of the stories. Through those tales, children across the ages learned lessons of basic right and wrong, along with the perils of straying from the path when venturing into the woods, and occasionally the unintended consequences of getting what we wished for. “Once upon a time” proves to be a pretty loaded phrase.
It also might sound like a heavy load for these simple stories to bear. However, director Kate Arthurs-Goldberg and her entire cast and creative team have brought together a simply lovely production filled with beauty and emotion, largely capturing the heart of one Sondheim’s best shows.
Staging any Sondheim show is a daring challenge for the most seasoned performers. The young talents in the Phils prove that they are up to task.
Leading the cast are Lloyd Passafume and Leah Velasquez as the Baker and his Wife, who are longing to have a child, unable to do so for complicated reasons involving the Witch “from next door.” The pair are well cast, together creating the most sympathetic figures of the show. The audience can relate directly to them and their relationship. Passafume especially tugs at the heart with his numbers near the end of the show. Velasquez shows a particularly lovely voice throughout the night, especially in “Any Moment,” making it a highlight of the night.
Carlie Goodlett is a charming Cinderella, offering both comic chops and a beautiful voice. The Witch is well-played by Audrey Owen, both in her incarnation as the crook’d old crone and as the transformed beauty, in which she gains a regal bearing.
Carlo Barrera is a brightly exuberant Jack. His “Giants in the Sky” rings with wonder and optimism. Claire Myers was effective as his worrying mother.
With one of the best duets of the show, “Hello, Little Girl,” Emma Potts has sassy fun as Little Red Riding Hood, while Scott Hawkins, as the Wolf, lasciviously prowls about her. The pair also perform some of the best dancing in that number, choreographed by Kenneth Beck, Class of ’79.
The two Princes are Charming (would we expect less?) as played by Cameron Mazoue and Kai McCurley. Their duet, “Agony,” with its tongue-twisting lines, is a comic delight as each attempts to one-up the other in his romantic pursuits.
Dowen Fife serves as the amiable narrator kicking off the proceedings. Ronnie Bergeron adds puzzlement to the story as the Mysterious Man with secrets to reveal.
The rest of the ensemble – there are nearly 40 performers in the cast – fills the stage with energy, singing and acting with verve.
Particular kudos to the orchestra, tucked overhead and backstage. Under the baton of conductor M. Joseph Caluda, the ensemble delivers a splendid reading of the Tony Award-winning score, producing a big, robust sound. The smooth strings build a solid foundation as the winds provide rich color. The ringing brass is bright, and the percussionists propel it all with driving force.
The production looks incredible. The sets, designed by Ron Goldberg, are richly detailed and functional. Ben Schaubhut’s wigs, along with makeup by Kaitlin Lombard and Mike Dardant, vividly enhance the characterizations.
The backstage crew, headed by stage manager Dusty Doll, keeps the show running smoothly.
It’s all you could wish for as the Philelectic Society wraps up its year with this thoroughly enchanting production.
Ted Mahne serves on the faculty of the Theology Department. In addition, he is the chief theater critic for The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com.
Tickets are available now, online.
Remaining show dates and times:
Thursday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m. – New Show Date!
Friday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 13 at 2:00 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.