As a lifelong Sondheim fan, I have been waiting for this production, and I can say without any hesitation I was not disappointed. Sondheim is not easy to sing. But Festival 56 has such a strong group of singers this season that the vocals where not a problem. In fact, they are a strength lead by the incredible voice of Sarah Smith. Smith takes it to the next level, though, by putting the full intent and emotional weight behind the voice, making for a complete, powerful and moving performance.
Not that she left the other actors behind her. This was a well balanced cast of equally talented actors. Mathew C. Scott has been a steady performer this season, but bared his emotions to us in the second act. He showed us how he felt in his song “No More.” Amanda Spear and Caleb Donahoe both sing beautifully as little Red Riding Hood and Jack. There is a complete performance from both, beyond just the singing, a fully realized character and performance that takes a high level of concentration and commitment. Marissa Martinez has also made that full commitment in every production this season and in the role of Cinderella, her least quirky role of the season, she shows her versatility and strength as a performer.
There is more to this production than the actors. Director Tim Seib does a good job squeezing such a big production into a small venue. By opening up the set all the way to the back wall, Seib gives the illusion of size and maximizes the space. The first act has many entrances and exits by a fast moving cast, keeping up a fast moving show, telling multiple storylines at once. It could easily have become a traffic jam, but with a clever use of a few simple frames of wood, Seib avoided the problems of a small space and turned it into a positive. As a result, we were rewarded with an intimate performance with each actor. I liked the abstract style set rather than trying to create something “realistic.”
Technically, the lighting, set design and staging worked very well. But the sound system, mikes and speakers, were not balanced well. When everyone is on stage, a few solo lines meant to stand out are lost to the group’s sound. Ironically, in the quieter moments and solos, the vocals are easier to hear. I had no trouble hearing the two princes sing “Agony.” Tom Rusterholz and Ryan Hickey almost stole the show. A highlight of the night for sure.
This fairytale story does not pull any punches. You will get a strong dose of reality from the plot and from the actors performances. You have one weekend left; don’t miss your chance to see “Into The Woods” at the Grace Performing Arts Center though Aug. 3.