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Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Into the Woods

Great vocal talents and imaginative theater choices lead you into the woods of an atypical fairy tale

As you enter Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, take note of the Into the Woods set, designed by show director and choreographer Darnell Morris. The woods are beautifully painted in soft pastels with large trees on each side of the stage, evoking a pastoral Monet sensibility. Appreciate the beauty while you can because, as advertised, “this is not your typical fairy tale,” and with Alex Doan’s lighting, the stage becomes dark and ominous very quickly.
    Into the Woods is a complex Stephen Sondheim musical, layering messages about parenting onto well-known fairy tales and challenging musical numbers. Director Morris improves the original with change done first at Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre: The adult narrator is replaced by a young boy who has run into the woods to escape arguing parents.
    In the woods, he meets a Baker and his Wife who can’t have a child. Jack (of Beanstalk fame), a Witch, Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Rapunzel and a duo of Princes make a grand mash-up of well-known fairy tales. The consequences of wishes and dreams — as well of curses and nightmares — are the theme. The song “Children Will Listen” explains Into the Woods: Into the woods you have to grope/ but that’s the way you learn to cope/ into the woods to find there’s hope/ of getting through the journey.
    A strong cast of 18 — all having a grand time — bring the journey to life. Deserving special mention is Morris’ amazing choreography that fills the small stage with the cast. All the characters have unique steps, yet group dance patterns ebb and flow seamlessly.
    Scott Gaines as the Baker, Malinda Markland as the Baker’s Wife, Katrina Ellen Sillaman as the Witch, Harrison Smith as Jack and Lauren Winther-Hansen as Little Red Ridinghood are the leads. Vocally and characteristically, this quintet is well suited for the roles. Each is a strong singer and focused actor. When they blend musically, it is transporting. Sillaman has a strong first act. Smith and Winther-Hansen are a triple threat of dancing, singing and acting. Markland’s character believably goes from silly housewife to self-possessed woman.  
    On a lighter note, the two Princes — Kelston Thomas as Rapunzel’s prince and Alex Xourias as Cinderella’s — are priceless as overblown, stage-posing narcissists. (Explaining his wandering eye, Cinderella’s Prince tells her that he was bred only to be charming, not sincere.) Thomas also takes great delight in making a smarmy, deliciously malicious Wolf.
    Sarah Treanor as Cinderella and Carol Ann Drescher as Rapunzel use powerful voices to strengthen the production.
    All the fairy tales come to life around Andrew Sharpe, whose young narrator is the central focus. He seems a bit bewildered by all the comings and goings around him, but isn’t that the way of a child?
    Costumes by Linda Swann are a technical amazement, both folksy appropriate and startlingly fresh. Swann makes an amazing range of taffeta tartans look good in combinations that just should be horrid.
    How music director Trent Goldsmith was able to conduct the orchestra and remain in sync, hidden behind the stage is another bit of theatrical magic.
    With this joyful and thoughtful production, Annapolis Summer Garden Theater’s 47th season ends on an elegant note.

Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Technical directors: Dan Caughran and Scott McCormick. With Cristina Shunk as Jack’s mother; Ian Andrews as Steward; Mckenzie Blade as Granny and as the Giant; Mayumi Baker Griffe as Florinda; Amy Harrison as Lucinda; Anastasia Sophia Herne as Cinderella’s mother; Steve Karig as Mysterious Man; and Erika Knepp as Cinderella’s stepmother.
Playing Th-Su thru Sept. 1. 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.