Friday was opening night for The Alpha Players of Florrisant’s musical production of “Into the Woods.” It’s a most-loved, smart confection/collaboration between Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, and judging by the smiles on the faces of the audience, this will be a successful 5 show run for Alpha. The venue was Florissant Civic Center Theater, which is a beautiful community space equipped with a box office, great stadium seating, full light and sound capabilities. The orchestra, successfully conducted by Tim Clark, is in an orchestra pit under the stage. These are all important features for an audience. The Alpha Players are fortunate to have this space available to them. All these physical features were employed to their full advantage.
“Into the Woods” is a compilation of some of Grimm’s fairytales. According to Alpha’s own description, the story is “about wishes, family, and the choices we make.” The story follows the Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King’s festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. The Baker and his wife encounter Little Red Riding Hood, and then the local witch, who reveals that they are cursed into a future without children unless they follow her steps to reverse the curse: find a cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold. Thus begins a journey into the woods, where princes, giants, evil stepmothers, harps, a mysterious man, a wolf, and hope are encountered. Decisions and changes are made, and that’s all in Act 1. Act 2 deals with the reality of their decisions and the lessons they have learned.
The Alpha Players are a non-profit community theater group. That means actors and production team are volunteers. For an audience, it means affordable and often excellent theatrical entertainment. “Into the Woods” is well worth your ticket dollar. The music directors, Tim Clark and Becky Thorn, have found a talented group of musicians, and all of the actors on stage are good singers. In particular, I found Cinderella, played by Amanda Kocher; the Witch, Sarah Gene Dowling; Jack, played by Sean Michael; the two princes, Dennis Folwarczny and Danny Brown; and the Mysterious Man/Narrator, David Wickes, wonderfully easy to enjoy. These singers were also decent actors. Jack’s Mother, played by Pamela Geppert, was hilarious as the burdened mother of a medieval teen. Overall, the direction (by Director Sharon Cotner) was well done and crisp. It worked. What else worked? The lights, by Nathan Schroeder, with lots of attention to a dappled moonlit forest floor, and sound design by Brian Borgstede, with some special sound effects.
There were a few things I felt were under-served. The Costume design by Barbara Langa, Kathy Slavik, and Sharon Cotner, was uneven. Some pieces were imaginative and carefully chosen. Other costumes were unflattering to the actors, or just appeared uncoordinated. All actors were identifiable as princes, peasants, or mysterious men. Community theater costumes are notoriously hard to “do” without a dozen seamstresses and a big budget, however.
Props, by Janet Maneikis and Jack Ryan Petee, were well done. The cow was amusing and worked well. The set, designed by Sharon Cotner, fit the space beautifully, and was carefully crafted for the most part. I spent quite a while speculating on the material used on the set. One could see how much work and how many hours of labor went into it. The plan worked well for the actors and the space, and that is an accomplishment. What I believe was missing was a sense of enchantment and fantasy, which could be conveyed through color and style.
As a whole, I enjoyed this production of “Into the Woods.” If you have never seen the theatrical version of this, Alpha Players production is a good place to start. Good voices, great musical direction, decent actors, and the story is carried forward with a general sense of energy, purpose and enjoyment. The actors believe what they are singing when they tell us “No One Is Alone.” Go see it.
“Into the Woods” can be seen at Florissant Civic Center, October 7, 13, 14, at 7:30 PM and October 15, 2017 at 2 PM. For tickets, call 314-921-5678 or visit http://www.alphaplayers.org/tickets.html.