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'Into the Woods' hailed as one of ACT's best since 'Chicago'

The two princes, played by Gary Thury, left, and Connor Voeltz, right, discuss their princess love interests before breaking into song and dueling during the musical number "Agony" while rehearsing for "Into the Woods" at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. (Kella Rodiek/Republic)

For as big of a theater geek as I am, it was hard for me to believe that prior to last week, I had never seen "Into the Woods." I was familiar with the story — I knew it was a big show, and I was a little nervous for the crew and cast of Area Community Theatre's production. Could they pull it off?

The answer is a resounding "yes." "Into the Woods," with music and lyrics by Steven Sondheim, adapted from the book by James Lapine and directed by A.J. Krumholz, is successful by all of the standard measures: acting, singing, staging, sets, lights and costumes. It's probably one of ACT's best since "Chicago." What a great way for the company to begin its 10th anniversary season.

"Into the Woods" is a mash-up of several classic fairy tales. We meet Cinderella and her family; Little Red Riding Hood and her grandma; Jack of beanstalk fame and his mother; golden-haired Rapunzel; a couple of princes; and, of course, a wicked witch. The premise centers upon the town baker (Trent Forrest) and his wife (Jessica Baas) who hope to have a child.

The moral dilemma this show poses is what would you really do to get what you most want in life? You might do what is necessary, but beware of both the intended, as well as unintended, consequences.

Krumholz has performed a stunning feat of harnessing youthful talent, along with some veterans to anchor the action. All of Mitchell should be proud of the young men and women coming out of our local and area schools who can sing and perform at this level, some as young as 15.

The tale is told through a combination of intricate songs and rhymes. There is a narrator, adroitly played by Emily Johnson in her stage debut. Johnson, along with the Mysterious Man (Devin Carey), perform the roles of interlocutors and hold the story together. Pay special attention to Tessa Yeo, the wicked witch. Her solo in "Opening" and "Witch's Lament" will be two of the best vocal performances you will hear this season. Comic relief is provided by Connor Voeltz and Gary Thury, the most charming of princes. And Terri Jacklin's silent "Milky White" will amuse you.

Musical director Jason Zehr has managed to get the best from his performers who are accompanied by a challenging pre-recorded musical score. Krumholz's set is simple, with modular set pieces that depict the village and the woods. Lighting by Jake Habermann helps to increase the gloom and intrigue of the woods. The show is a long one at nearly three hours, but I was so anxious to see how it ended that the evening flew by.

I have vivid memories of my own well-worn copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Some were scary, some were entertaining, but all served a purpose: to impart a lesson to the reader about the consequences of certain behaviors. You may have visited your own personal "woods" searching for answers. I believe if you venture into ACT's "woods," you will be delighted.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are $15 or $18 and are on sale at the box office, at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.

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