Review: Into the Woods comes into the light at Clarksville Little Theatre [Theater]

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For 65 years, the Clarksville Little Theatre has been bringing productions to life on the north side of the Ohio River. 
 
With a storied past, CLT has ushered hundreds of local actors and directors through its hallowed spaces, including several who have gone on to become Louisville theatre icons. Juergen K. Tossman, Producing Artistic Director of Bunbury for 20 seasons, and C. Douglas Ramey, the founder of Shakespeare in Central Park (now known as the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival) both logged directing credits at the theatre.
 
In this 65th season opener, a current mainstay of the theatre, Debra Rice Endris, directs her cast and crew to another fine credit for the Clarksville Little Theatre history books. 
 
In choosing a Stephen Sondheim musical, long known in the theatre world as one of the most difficult lyricists to perform, Endris (along with her musical director husband, Dan Endris) has bitten off a sizeable challenge. It is with pride, therefore, that she can consider that challenge a success.
 
Complex lyrics and melodies aside, the cast of this production floats through the convoluted songs with grace and good diction, especially shining in the larger company numbers. While here and there individuals can be heard to be pitchy, the unpredictable music makes those errors easy to cover.
 
Kudos to accompanist Paul Stiller for his exceptional work, though the placement of his music light is a bit blinding to the audience.
 
Into the Woods is a story that takes the fairy tales of the past, mixes them together with some crazy (and often humorous) relationships, and leaves its audience wondering if all their childhood heroes really did end up “happily ever after.”
 
The Witch (Valerie Hopkins) is the tie that binds the story together, and Hopkins fits the bill with flair, making her character one of the most magnetic on the stage. Cristina Mullins (Baker’s wife) is a strong vocal anchor to the production, and Richard Ryan commands the stage with the perfect voice for the Narrator.
 
The nimble Hy Stein jumps and jives about the stage like he’s sixteen again, fulfilling his Mysterious Man role with the vigor he’s displayed since his seasons with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.
 
Madison Cunningham brings a wide-eyed innocence and pure voice that fits her character as Cinderella, but one is left to wonder if she really is the child of the wicked stepmother, as her bio seems to be the only one left out of the program.
 
But it is 13-year-old Bryce Egan who sets the stage on fire. His lively characterization of Jack, his comedic timing, and his already well-developed voice are a delight to behold. Watch out, Kentuckiana—this kid is going to be big.
 
Into the Woods is a fast-paced musical full of near-misses and mishaps, with the characters often singing their thoughts to the audience.  Yet, in those times when they were onstage with others, I found myself desperate for the characters to relate to their scene partners instead of to the exit sign at the back of the theatre. I was finally rewarded in my patience when, near the end of Act II, Cinderella and Red Riding Hood (Chelsea Endris) have a believably heartfelt moment.
 
Aside from a few mysterious crashes off stage right and a fly rail that is in desperate need of some WD-40, the CLT cast, crew and set designer John Campbell Finnegan have successfully turned their small theatre into a well-played and enjoyable forest. 
 
Clarksville Little Theatre’s production of Into the Woods runs through September 17th. Tickets are $15, $12 and $8, and can be reserved by calling 812-283-6522.
 
Image: Courtesy of Clarksville Little Theatre
About Michelle Rynbrandt
Before landing in the Possibility City, Michelle toured the country performing in various regional theatres. Having been there and done that, she can honestly say that Louisville's cultural opportunities are second to none.
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