Sunday, October 22, 2000

Theater review

'Into the Woods' noble first effort

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

        It is quite challenging for a brand new professional theater company to start off by producing a large musical. It's even more challenging — perhaps a bit crazy — to begin with a Stephen Sondheim musical.

        That's exactly what Actors Repertory Theatre of Middletown is doing with its initial production of Into the Woods. The results are mixed.

        Into the Woods is Mr. Sondheim's complex musical reinventing (with book by James Lapine) of several traditional fairy tales. The tales become linked and turned inside-out in an increasingly serious examination of the human spirit.

        The real star of this production is musical director and conductor Carmon DeLeone, well known locally as the music director of the Cincinnati Ballet. Mr. DeLeone has put together an orchestra of 14 talented musicians who give him a full and blended sound. Mr. DeLeone also elicits fine singing from most of his cast, including all of the principals.

        The acting, however, gets only a handful of the actors through the woods. Many get lost in the forest when they stop singing. A few of the cast of 18 capture their characters in an energetic and charming way. A few are painfully labored and one-dimensional. The rest are somewhere in between.

        Faring the best are Downtown Theatre Classics alum Ty Yadzinski and Paul Andolsek as a pair of suave princes, Elizabeth Krause as a naive Little Red Riding Hood, and Lesley Hitch as a distressed Rapunzel.

        In the pivotal role of the Witch, Molly Jo Head was a relatively late replacement for a previously announced actor. She has some fine moments in the second act (once she's out of a costume that totally obscures her face and performance) and shows much promise, though she is too young for the role.

        Director Michael L. Coyan uses his entire space including side stages, in front of the main stage, and singing and dancing in the aisles.

        Into the Woods is a noble first effort for Actors Repertory Theatre even if the final product is uneven.
       Into the Woods, through Oct. 29, Actors Repertory Theatre, 2 N. Main St., Middletown, $15-$18, (513) 727-9361.


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