Into The Woods

Professional Performing Arts School, NYC - April 2005
Review by John Kenrick

The mark of a really great musical is how well is works without the trappings of a multi-million dollar production. Into The Woods has long since proven itself a classic in hundreds of high school productions all across the United States. But I have rarely seen any production that took such a fresh and effective approach as this delightful staging at Manhattan's Professional Performing Arts School.

This wonderful institution offers a quality education to youngsters (grades 6 through 12) actively pursuing careers in theatre, film and television, allowing them to take time for auditions, rehearsals and performances while maintaining solid pre-college studies. These budding pros have more than the energy and enthusiasm of youth -- they have the genuine "presence" that only comes from living in the arts from an early age.

Happily, this gifted young cast has the advantage of working with a production team that is willing to take fresh risks with well-known material. This Into The Woods eschews the traditional storybook trappings, placing the entire cast in contemporary fashions. Jack (of Beanstalk fame) has pierced ears, spiked hair and a penchant for portable video games. The two princes wear tennis whites or riding habits, and compare photos of their beloved beauties on their cell phone screens. This sort of approach could easily descend into terminal cuteness, but thanks to director Matt Ferrell and resourceful designers Sarah Martin (sets), Amelia Dombrowski (costumes) and George Gountas (lighting), the results only empower the text. Kudos to Brett Kristofferson for flawless musical direction. I have never heard this demanding score sound better. In fact, I have rarely seen Into The Woods look or sound this good anywhere -- not even in full professional stagings.

While the entire ensemble is first rate, several performances were outstanding. Mara Feinstein handled the Witch with an exceptional blend of humor and sensitivity, while Kaylin Tavolacci made the Baker's Wife a living, three-dimensional joy. Brad Siebeking offered a show-stealing Wolf, and both Michael Kelton and Justin Peck turned in delightful performances as the less than charming princes. Meredith Bull was equally delightful as a punked-out Red Riding Hood. As the Baker, Thomas Wolfson offered a performance that was a model of understated power. I hope to see far, far more of all these talented people on stages and screens in years to come.

Fellow residents of the New York metro area would do well to keep tabs on PPAS performances in years to come. Just one block from the theatre district, this is a fabulous place to see the stars of tomorrow strut their stuff today.

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