“Into the Woods” Audience Review-Kylie Schultz

February 24th, 2015 No comments »

by Kylie Schultz

In a production full of “too-good-to-be-true” happily-ever-afters, I’m happy to announce that Lyric Arts has put on a show good enough to leave you feeling happily ever after. In the way that Lyric Arts continuously and flawlessly seems to do, they have put on a show that is both refreshingly classic with a twist.

Equal parts twisted fairy tale and morality play, Into the Woods is a fun Sondheim romp through the forest. Following a large cast of characters recognizable from childhood, the interwoven storylines follow each character’s “happily-ever-after” beyond its seemingly happy ending. Audiences follow Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack, Cinderella, the Witch, and a Baker and his wife as they journey through the woods to get their wishes. As Act 2 begins, the characters realize that you don’t always get what you want. At times dark, the story is still a delightful play on classic fairy tales that will leave you smiling, learning, and feeling alongside the characters.

This production boasts a very large and extremely talented cast. Regular attendees of Lyric Arts productions will recognize many of the performers, but new or returning, all of the performers in this show are outstanding.  The Witch, portrayed phenomenally by Lara Trujillo, is easily the connective tissue that guides the story and is by far one of the most difficult and comical roles. Trujillo is spot on and doesn’t disappoint. I was also stunned by the Baker (Joseph Pyfferoen) and his Wife (Kelly Matthews) who had marvelous chemistry together, matched perfectly with amazing vocals, and drove the story emotionally with their performances. There really are too many characters, and while each should be highlighted, there wouldn’t be enough time to praise Director Matt McNabb on his artistic and charming portrayal of a Sondheim classic.

McNabb chose to employ the use of puppetry in this show which gave the timeless character of the Wolf (of Little Red Riding Hood fame) an interesting, fun, but sinister new twist. In addition to using puppets, the show is heavily reliant on its use of sound and limited staging to portray a complicated, wider world beyond the woods where the story takes place. McNabb nails it and this show feels bigger than the stage space to which it’s confined.

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Sam Sanderson stars as Jack alongside his best friend and pet, Milky White, designed and played by Gabe Gomez. Photo by Mike Traynor.

 

This show is wonderful. If you’ve seen it, be prepared to see and hear all your favorite moments sprinkled in with some new fun ones. If you haven’t seen it, buckle in. It’s a long show, but it’s rewarding and you’ll see all your favorite childhood fairy tales transformed before your eyes. It’s always an experience to go to a Lyric Arts production and I say Bravo! Into the Woods can be added to the list of not-to-miss performances by one of the greatest theaters in the Twin Cities Metro.

Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.

“Into the Woods” Audience Review–Joan Wingert

February 24th, 2015 No comments »

By Joan Wingert

I attended the Feb. 20 performance, and it is with great enthusiasm that I give the entire cast and crew of Into the Woods a hearty thumbs-up.

I have been a complete fan of this musical/morality play since I first viewed (and since memorized) the PBS version starring Bernadette Peters et al, and I have taught the songs to my voice students over the years. So I knew what I was about to see, and had no less than Broadway as my measuring stick.

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Kelly Matthews stars as The Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods.”

 

I was captivated from start to finish–in a story, not a theater, for a terrific two and a half hours.

Since others in previous Into the Woods reviews have given a brief synopsis, I’ll not do so here. As to the specifics:

  • The set was a marvel, deceptively simple and minimal, allowing for all the multilevel action that’s demanded by the storylines without overwhelming the space.
  • The actors’ character portrayals in speech and song were comic yet profound in Act I, and very moving in Act II–even in the moments of comic relief (I especially loved the blind sister who unwittingly was singing to the tree in the last scene). I rarely saw actors, only well-defined characters in whom I recognized my own gullibility and failings. I thought I had my favorites among the cast, yet every time I tried to specify a name/character here, I find myself wanting to name everyone. Kudos to all the cast for achieving such a strong and interdependent ensemble.
  • The pacing, the movement, the spinning out of this interweaving of fairy tales was superb.
  • The orchestra was yet another, though invisible character, creating mood, and sound effects. The fact that I was mostly unaware of their skills during the songs and between is a testament to the balance they struck with those onstage.
  • The puppetry won me over. When I first saw the cow and its “handler,” I didn’t know if I could make friends with the concept, but it became a source of delight in the story and appreciation of the skill it took to make it seamless.
  • Finally a word about the choice of narrator. A young narrator who shapes each tale as it progresses sets a completely different, and very interesting, tone. It also gives a new and unsettling edge to the narrator’s fate. Thanks for giving me some new things to chew on.

Again, please forgive my refraining from naming names. Each of you are richly deserving. It will have to suffice that I told you so in the receiving line.

Joan Wingert is a central Minnesota choral music director and liturgist. She offers private music lessons from her home and has directed several community theater productions in rural central Minnesota.

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Joan Wingert

 

Dig Deeper – The Mind Behind The Music

February 18th, 2015 No comments »

Stephen Sondheim 2Stephen Sondheim (1930 – ), the American lyricist and composer, was born in New York City to Herbert, a dress manufacturer and Janet, a clothing designer.  After his parents’ divorce in 1942, Sondheim moved to Pennsylvania with his mother and began studying the piano and organ.  Already practicing songwriting as a student at the George School, Sondheim became friends with the son of Broadway lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein.

As a teen, Sondheim worked as an assistant on several of Hammerstein’s collaborations with composer Richard Rodgers, gaining valuable encouragement, advice, and recoginition as a rising star of Broadway.  After graduating a music major from Williams College in 1950, Sondheim studied further with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt and moved back to his birthplace, New York City.  Stage director Arthur Laurents brought Sondheim into contact with composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins, who were looking for a lyricist for a contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  In writing the song lyrics for West Side Story, Sondheim became part of one of Broadway’s most successful productions of all time.
Stephen Sondheim

Sondheim won several Tony Awards in the 1970s for his collaborations with producer/director Harold Prince, including the musicals Company (1970), a meditation on contemporary marriage and commitment; Follies (1971), an homage to the Ziegfeld Follies and early Broadway; A Little Night Music (1973), a period comedy-drama that included the hit song “Send in the Clowns”; and Sweeney Todd (1979), a gory melodrama set in Victorian London.

Cassandra Proball NEW SQ

Cassandra Proball Education Director

Sondheim continued to combine various musical genres with sharp lyrical writing and unexpected subject matter in the 1990s and, although some of his later work re-ceived less critical and popular acclaim, he has been showered with awards, including: the Pulitizer Prize, an Academy Award, multiple Grammy Awards, multiple Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, membership in the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Into the Woods” Audience Review–Roxy Orcutt

February 16th, 2015 No comments »

by Roxy Orcutt

Into the Woods, the beloved musical from Stephen Sondheim, made its debut at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage over the weekend and I was able to catch a showing on Preview Night, the big warm-up to opening night, on Thursday.

For those unfamiliar, Into The Woods follows a group of fairytale characters that we all know and love, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Baker, his wife and Jack (as in And the Beanstalk) among others, on separate missions that bring them together in the titular woods.  Lyric Arts, keeping in the spirit of their production of A Christmas Carol in 2014, takes a few of the more well-known elements of the show and turn them on their head, creating a more untraditional interpretation.

My favorite part of the show was the puppetry.  The character of Milky White, a cow who only communicated in moos, was an absolute joy to watch.  She became a fully formed character in the skillful hands of Gabriel Gomez.  The Wolf, also operated by Gabriel Gomez and Kyler Chase, was equal parts hilarious and sinister.

Nykeigh Larson, who I adored in Young Frankenstein, was an absolute treasure as Little Red Riding Hood.  She was adorable as the innocent little girl who has a not-so-innocent run in with a Big Bad Wolf, and also laugh-out-loud funny, delivering Little Red’s lines with brilliant comedic timing.

Nykeigh Larson stars as Little Red Ridinghood

Nykeigh Larson stars as Little Red Ridinghood in “Into the Woods.” Photo by Mike Traynor

The character of the Witch, portrayed by Lara Trujillo, the connective tissue among all our characters, was outstanding.  From her first appearance on the stage looking like a voodoo priestess emerging from the forest, to her transformation to a younger, more beautiful, but just as vicious version of herself, she was no less than magical.

With all of Lyric Arts musicals, the addition of live musicians only enhances the show.  Even though you cannot see the collection of talented musicians, hearing them is an exhilarating experience, especially when they are accompanying such a talented group of singers that we encounter in this entire cast.

This was my first time seeing any production of Into the Woods, and I now understand why this show is so popular among audiences it warranted a big screen version.  While nothing will compare to the experience of live theater, I am now eager to see the film version, if only to see if Meryl Streep compares to Lara Trujillo (I may be partial to witches).

However, since this was my first time seeing Into the Woods, I occasionally found myself in the woods when it came to certain parts of the show.  I would suggest if you are also a first-timer to Into the Woods, maybe read up a bit on the plot.  The show moves quickly, and you want to be sure you are keeping up.

While Into the Woods can be dark in some places, I feel this particular production is safe (and fun) for the entire family, even though you may find yourself explaining a few things to the kids after the show.

Lyric Arts continues to be one of the best, if not the best, community theater in the Twin Cities, and I am so proud to have them right here in Anoka.

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt, The Halloween Honey, is a local author and theater enthusiast. Her book, “History and Hauntings of the Halloween Capital,” explores Anoka, MN, its spooky tales, colorful characters, and why it is named the “Halloween Capital of the World.” It is available for sale online at www.HalloweenHoney.com.

“Into the Woods” Audience Review – Gary Davis

February 16th, 2015 No comments »

by Gary Davis

First things first. Should you see Into the Woods at Lyric Arts Main Stage?  Yes, but remember, they sell out frequently, so get your game in gear and get tickets.

Second, a confession:  I have not seen the movie version currently in theaters because I don’t want to compare the two.  That would be like comparing apples and, say, kumquats.  Just not appropriate.

Now, to the show.  Entering the theater, I was reminded that one of the best things about Lyric Arts is their sets.  This one is no different.  Scenic Designer Ben Olsen has constructed a multi-level, multi-entrance wooded set that beautifully supports the action of the show, with its interweaving fairy tales.

For the uninitiated, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine have weaved together several fairy tales and imagined them all meeting in the magical woods near where they live.  Like all fairy tales, everyone lives happily ever after, that is, if the show ended when Act 1 does.  Act 2 is much darker as the fairy tales un-weave, only to be followed by a ‘kinda happily ever’ after ending.

With the exception of the Narrator (more on that later), director Matt McNabb has cast the rest of the show to type….with an ensemble of excellent actor/singers.  And that ensemble is the essence of this production.

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Alyssa Seifert stars as Cinderella (left) suppressed and taunted by her evil stepsisters Anne Brown, Florinda (center) and Katharine Strom, Lucinda (right). Photo by Mike Traynor

 

What I like most here is that Mr. McNabb avoided caricature, with the characters being believable, even though they are fairy tale characters.  This show can lead to “over the top” caricatures and director McNabb has given us true characters who let the circumstances of the play drive the humor and emotion.

Another strength is that all of the cast carries their vocals well, essential in that this show is almost all music, with 25 songs.  The 10-person pit orchestra (seated behind the set), led by Louis Berg-Arnold, is excellent and, thankfully, does not overpower the vocals.

As expected at Lyric Arts, other technical elements are professional and support the action on stage seamlessly.  Of special note are the sound effects for the giants.  The theater literally was shaking when the giants came to the woods.  Caution to parents of young children, you may want to hold their hands here.

Another item of appreciation I took away from this show was, while none of the dance scenes were spectacular, they fit the mood and pace of the show perfectly.  There is more to choreography than dance numbers.  The almost continual movement in this show was really one long dance number and I have to think choreographer Penelope Freeh had a lot to do with that.  The show is relatively long, over 2-1/2 hours including intermission, but does not feel long because of the pace and the numerous plot lines.

You may have noticed I haven’t discussed any individual performances, and with apologies to individual cast members, there will be none, as I would feel compelled to discuss all of them.  This cast is excellent across the board, with the major distinguishing factor the size of the role.

As promised, a note on the narrator role.  Director McNabb has cast a middle school age boy in this role.  At first, I was not sure how that would work, but it turns out it works very well.  This young man is obviously “of the show” but not in it, so his constant presence on stage adds to the story as he supplies props and sound effects.  Kudos for an innovative casting choice.

Gary Davis

Gary Davis

Gary Davis is a local actor/director who is a big fan of theater.

Dig Deeper – A Musical with a Message

February 4th, 2015 No comments »
Cassandra Proball NEW SQ

Cassandra Proball, Education Director, Lyric Arts Main Street Stage

Musical theater often gets a bad rap for lacking the depth and complexity of other genres.  In her 1992 book, Art Isn’t Easy: The Theater of Stephen Sondheim, Joanne Gordon describes how this attitude toward musical theater evolved and Sondheim sought to shake things up…

“The reasons for the musical’s disrepute are many.  In its infancy, in the early years of the 20th century, musical theatre was unsophisticated…The simplistic moralism, the naïve optimism, the noble hero and simpering heroine were adopted, unaltered, from the nineteenth century melodrama.  The commercial success of these pieces encouraged their fossilization into a predictable pattern… [and] the musical was viewed solely as a commercial commodity.

The evolutionary progression of the musical from Showboat to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is well documented in histories of the American musical.  The form changed and became increasingly complex.  Integration became the key word as Rodgers and Hammerstein wove the texture of song, dance, and plot closely together.  Yet despite the fact that such themes as racial prejudice (in South Pacific and Finian’s Rainbow, for example), marital disharmony and infidelity (in Carousel and The Most Happy Fella), and capitalist venality (in Allegro and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) were introduced, this kind of theater retained an essential naiveté.  The musicals of the forties and fifties were escapist in that they transported their audience into a larger-than-life world where emotions were expressed in melody and the evening capped with a reassuring reprise at the final curtain.  The climate of progress and promise that prevailed during the creative period of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s career no longer existed by the late 1960s.  From that point on, for an artist in the commercial theatre to comment on, or attempt to change, prevalent attitudes has been an invitation to financial disaster and obscurity.

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Joanne Gordon, Artistic Director of California Repertory Company

Sondheim and his collaborators [instead] choose both complex subjects and consistently experimental techniques, and their musicals begin after the traditional happily-ever-after has run into trouble.  In an interview with Hubert Saal of Newsweek, Harold Prince explains his and Sondheim’s commitment to “truth” in the musical theatre:  “I work in the theatre, not in the musical theatre…Who says to be entertained means to be tickled?…I think it’s more stimulating to be upset.  I try to be part of what I want to see.  And I go to the theatre to see a little blood drawn.”

Sondheim has redefined the genre and, as a result, the gulf that separated “serious,” “legitimate” theatre from the musical theatre has effectively been bridged.”

 

Dig Deeper – Idea to Page to Stage

January 28th, 2015 No comments »

Milky WhiteFor the upcoming Lyric Arts production of Into the Woods, Gabriel Gomez, a Twin Cities freelance scenic and puppet designer, has designed and built several unique, original puppets to help us tell our story.   You might have seen Gomez’s work last year in Click Clack Moo:  Cows That Type, (puppet and co-scenic design) and you’ll see his work again for the upcoming Mainly For Kids production of Bunnicula.

Wolf Sketch uprightOne of the most exciting aspects of Gomez’s design is that not only will he be operating Milky White – traditionally performed as a puppet or prop – but he will also, in conjunction with actor Kyler Chase, be performing as The Wolf.  Check out these design sketches and come see how they’ve evolved from an idea on a page to the stage.

Dig Deeper – The Wit to Escape

January 21st, 2015 No comments »

Drinking-Tea-in-London-during-the-BlitzThe word “escapism”, defined as “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc. ,” first appeared in common usage, somewhat unsurprisingly, during the Great Depression. Since then, entire industries have sprung up to enable people to remove themselves from the rigors of daily life. The word “escapism” often carries a negative connotation – suggestive of people who are unhappy and unable or unwilling to connect with others or take meaningful action to change their lives or the world around them.

However, some artists have challenged the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. C. S. Lewis was fond of humorously remarking that the usual enemies of escape were jailers and a mind imprisoned by reality could refresh its imaginative powers through escape. Similarly J. R. R. Tolkien argued for escapism in fantasy literature as the creative expression of reality within a secondary (imaginative) world.  Neil Gaiman responded to a similar question about the value of “escapist” literature:

“[It] can actually be a real escape from places where you feel bad, and from bad places.  It can be a safe place you go, like going on holiday, and it can be somewhere that, while you’ve escaped, actually teaches you things you need to know when you go back, that gives you knowledge and armour and tools to change the bad place you were in.”

For some time before 1941 Coward had been thinking of a comedy about ghosts.  After his London office and flat was destroyed in the Blitz, Coward wanted to distract the public from the horrors of World War II.  Despite air raid sirens screaming outside during performances, Blithe Spirit never once mentions the war and managed to keep audiences laughing (literally) as bombs were falling.

“Blithe Spirit” Audience Review–Roxy Orcutt

January 12th, 2015 1 comment »

by Roxy Orcutt

From the moment I laid eyes on the promotional artwork for Lyric Arts’ production of Blithe Spirit this past summer (a Ouija board with the planchette hovering over “Yes”), I was sold. A comedic ghost story? Was this play written just for me? I couldn’t believe I had to wait until January to experience this show, but last night I finally had my opportunity, and it was phenomenal.

Blithe Spirit centers on a writer named Charles Condomine in early-1940’s England. Charles invites a well-known medium, Madame Arcati, over to his home he shares with his second wife, Ruth, for a séance in order to conduct research for his upcoming novel. The Condomines, along with their friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, expect nothing more than a laugh from the eccentric Madame Arcati. Turns out, while Madam Arcati may not be the realest of the real deals, she still manages to successfully conjure up the spirit of Charles’s long-dead first wife Elvira, who only Charles can see, and is eager to win back her spot as the original Mrs. Condomine.

The cast couldn’t have been more perfect. Ryan Nielson had the tricky job of portraying Charles Condomine, on one hand, a somewhat callous, egotistical and occasionally preening character, and on the other, a frazzled, conflicted man who really only wants to do right by both his wives, living and dead. Ryan walked this line with perfection, delivering not only on the love-to-hate-him moments, but also hitting the more sympathetic notes flawlessly as well.

Jessica Scott, who portrays Charles’s current and very much alive wife Ruth, was outstanding. Jessica’s comedic timing and facial expressions received some of the biggest laughs of the night, along with her ability to act with and around someone she isn’t able to see in her scenes with Elvira was nothing short of masterful.

Like the titular blithe spirit, in breezes our ghost, Elvira partway through the first act. Allie Munson moved like an otherworldly, ethereal creature, even when she was arguing with Charles’s or attempting to make Ruth’s life difficult, she never once transformed physically back into the land of the living, always seeming to glide across the stage in the most spirited of ways.

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Grif Sadow (center) stars as the sophisticated, but eccentric Madame Arcati.

The moments Grif Sadow’s Madame Arcati was on the stage the audience could hardly contain their laughter. Carrying on about her bicycle, Ovaltine and conducting séances in the most unusual of ways (which included some killer dance moves), Madame Arcati’s eccentricities were rivaled only by Hannah Weinberg’s portrayal of Edith, the Condomines’ intense servant, who has one of the funniest moments in the entire show, involving toast, a serving tray and a bell.

The cast not only stood out individually, they also moved beautifully together in the more physically demanding comedic scenes. Pratfalls, choreographed arguments and an honest-to-goodness spit all make an appearance in Blithe Spirit, but the way this cast handled these traditional physical comedy moments was an absolute blast.

I wanted to wrap up my review with a comment on the costuming. I could write another 500 words on how beautiful the pieces were, how gorgeous everyone looked, what talent and hard work must have gone into creating the costumes, but I will just say this to the Lyric Arts’ costume department; if any of Ruth Condomine’s or Violet Bradman’s dresses disappear, don’t look in my direction.

I am already planning on seeing Blithe Spirit again. I’m having a hard time deciding who I should take with me because I feel this show is something truly anyone can, and will enjoy, and best of all, Blithe Spirit leaves you feeling like you’re walking on air.

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt, The Halloween Honey, is a local author and theater enthusiast. Her book, “History and Hauntings of the Halloween Capital,” explores Anoka, MN, its spooky tales, colorful characters, and why it is named the “Halloween Capital of the World.” It is available for sale online at www.HalloweenHoney.com.

“A Christmas Carol” Review – Kylie Schultz

November 29th, 2014 1 comment »
Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz

‘Tis the season. It’s Christmas (almost), the time for eggnog, Christmas music, and much beloved traditions. We all know the story behind a Christmas Carol. We’ve heard it read or read it ourselves; we’ve seen the movies and parodies; somehow or another, even if you aren’t a fan, we all know the story.

I, personally, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But, many stagings are the same retelling of the same story. It’s hard to take such a time-honored Christmas tradition and remake it into something fresh without changing all that makes it classic.

I feel like I don’t need to tell you that Lyric Arts has done just that, and done it with flying colors.

Director Daniel Ellis weaves a marvelous and fantastical retelling of such a wonderfully classic story. Without modernizing the Victorian setting and language, Ellis has transformed the setting with a Steampunk twist. The story is at times funny, alarming, and always heartwarming. The costumes are beyond outstanding, transfixing me to the Ghost of Christmas Past, and causing me to audibly gasp at the Ghost of Christmas Future. Ellis has created a wonderfully believable setting without causing the audience to feel out of place or time with the story.

And please, can we talk about Ebenezer Scrooge? What a performance by lead actor Richard Brandt. Again, it must be said that it is hard to stage a show that is not only being staged simultaneously by other theaters, but that has been staged thousands of times by theaters across the world. Brandt successfully and freshly portrays the character of Scrooge and maintains your ire and affection from Act 1 to Finale.

There are many ways to get your A Christmas Carol fix this holiday season. I highly recommend that you add to your repertoire of more conventional retellings and delve into the world that Ellis and the spectacular cast and crew of Lyric Arts Anoka’s A Christmas Carol so eloquently enact.

Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.

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