‘Into the Woods’ hits high notes

SHELBY WELSCH, Theatre & Event Critic

“Into the Woods,” a musical famously known for being tricky to put together, was executed wonderfully by UNI’s Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC), School of Music and Theatre UNI.

The score of “Into the Woods” is rhythmically challenging, the themes and keys constantly change and the performers are required to hit a huge range of notes, making the musical generally difficult to piece together with the accompaniment.

However, it was obvious that every single person involved with the production of this musical (including the performers, musicians, stage hands and costume directors) put hours of hard work into producing “Into the Woods.”

While many, many people put their mark on this musical, I was particularly impressed with the performers and musicians who took it to the next level by listening intently to each other and working hand-in-hand to produce excellent musical numbers in perfect synchronization.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the GBPAC was the musical’s whimsical set design. The set had an eerie green theme, with two different “types” of trees in a forest-like setting.

There were big wooden cut outs of trees that were meant to double as piano hammers, as well as long strands of green fabric that gracefully hung from the ceiling. This added a lovely change in dimension and texture, which ultimately resulted in an interesting factor to the set design.

According to the musical’s program, Kristen Geisler, the show’s guest projections designer, came up with this idea to really hammer (no pun intended) home the ideas of spirits and magic. I personally found the set to be simple and fun, and I really liked the use of different materials to employ a fairytale-like setting.

The performers did a great job throughout the musical. There wasn’t a single performer who flopped, and there were a few performers, in particular, who especially stood out to me.

“The Witch,” played by Marjorie Gast, absolutely stole the show. And I mean stole. While I’m no expert in the craft of witchery, Gast had the cackle, the cruelty, the slyness…she had it all! I’ve seen Gast perform in a few different shows, and she has proven to be a wonderfully diverse actor.

“The Baker” and “The Baker’s Wife,” played by Mic Evans and Lauren VanSpeybroek, respectively, also had awesome chemistry on stage. They worked well together, and both performers easily elicited fits of laughter from the audience. I had a lot of fun watching their characters bicker and banter, as well as feeling the pang of heartbrokenness when “The Baker’s Wife” died, and “The Baker” was left alone to tend to the child they worked so hard to conceive.

“The Wolf,” played by Sam Wiegers, and “Little Red,” played by Erika Bailey, also worked very well together during one of my favorite songs in the show, “Hello, Little Girl.” “The Wolf” had to be extremely creepy and scuzzy during this scene because he was trying to get “Little Red” to be his next meal.

Wiegers did a great job at achieving this creep-o vibe and wowed the audience with his bodacious howl and hair-raising performance. Bailey also did a wonderful job acting as an innocent, yet feisty, “Little Red” throughout the show.

With all that being said, the one thing that I could critique was the heavy dose of abstraction featured in the musical. While I appreciated the abstract costumes and set design, the implementation of both the old and the new did confuse me at times.

For example, instead of building a tower for “Rapunzel,” a video of her was projected onto one of the trees. It was an interesting ploy, don’t get me wrong, but the technology advancement looked odd and out of place amongst the barren forest and fairytale-like set.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this performance of “Into the Woods.” I’ve seen the show many times and even took part of the production myself when I was in high school, and this was an interesting and fun twist on an old favorite.