BCT and Mu) before the big star-studded movie came out a few months ago, which I also enjoyed, but seeing it on stage again is even better. Like most pieces written for the stage, it works better as a stage experience. With repeated viewings, I'm able to appreciate even more Sondheim's clever lyrics and complicated melodies and Lapine's funny and poignant book, which can be best summed up by the statement "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." A new production* opens tonight at Lyric Arts, a community theater in Anoka that has continued to improve over the last few years. This show continues on that trajectory and is perhaps the best thing I've seen at Lyric Arts, except of course for the fantastic production of my favorite musical RENT last summer. The cast is all-around excellent with not a weak link among them, the production design includes inventive puppetry, and Sondheim's gorgeous and intricate score sounds so beautiful it sent me out of the theater singing and inspired me to finally download the cast recording (OBC, of course). If you have not yet made the drive out to Anoka to visit Lyric Arts, this might be a good time to start.
It's hard to pick out standouts in this large ensemble cast that is excellent across the board, under the direction of Matt McNabb, who also directed the aforementioned RENT, as well as the outrageous Young Frankenstein. Alyssa Seifert is a lovely Cinderella, Nykeigh Larson is at her most adorable as Little Red Ridinghood, Molly Jo Hall is the angelic voice in the tower as Rapunzel, Kyler Chase and Daniel Vinitsky are hilariously pompous and shallow as the dueting princes in "Agony," Joseph Pyfferoen and Kelly Matthews bring much humanity to their roles of the Baker and his Wife, Sam Sanderson is a sweet and open-faced Jack, Lara Trujillo's witch is creepy and deliciously over-the-top, and last but not least, 13-year-old Carter Skull is a great narrator, leading us through this story, always onstage, observing or taking part in the action.
Avenue Q. Most of the puppets don't have legs, and the puppeteers are visible and as much a part of the performance as the puppets. The wolf is particularly fun, with two puppeteers manipulating the puppet and performing an intricate waltz (Kyler Chase and Gabriel Gomez, who also designed the puppets and plays Milky White). Finally, Jeff Geisler's sound design creates some ominously loud giant steps, as well as cool and mysterious echoing effects.
Bloomington Civic Theatre has transitioned from a community to a professional theater (which seems to be a bit of a blurry line in most cases), Lyric Arts is stepping up to be the top community theater in the region, one that serves as a stepping stone for new young talent. I really can't ask more of a production of one of Sondheim's best musicals than a talented, enthusiastic, and dedicated cast, music that sounds beautiful (music director Louis Berg-Arnold leads a nine-person off-stage orchestra), and creative sets, puppets, sound, costumes, and choreography.
Into the Woods is a musical that tickles your funny bone, tugs at your heartstrings, and challenges your brain, all set to beautiful music. If you've only seen the movie, you owe it to yourself (and the show) to see it on stage, where it was meant to be seen. Into the Woods opens tonight and continues Thursdays through Sundays through March 8 at Lyric Arts on Main Street in Anoka (if you've never been to this theater before, check out my venues page, with info and tips on thirty venues around town).
*Lyric Arts' Into the Woods is the first of two local productions this year. Theater Latte Da will be presenting their version of the show, set in a German beer garden, at the Ritz Theater, opening in March.