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UGF’s ‘Into the Woods’ second cast on Saturday just as stellar as the first one

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Today I traveled “Into the Woods” with the University of Great Falls performing arts department.

While I was not the first such reviewer to do so for Big Sky State Buzz, Mr. Eric Dunn wrote a review of last night’s play, I do have some differing thoughts on the show, and I also saw the “West” cast, whereas Eric saw the “East” cast.

The “West” cast featured Siomara Zendejas as Cinderella, Tony McConnell as Jack, Kendra Bell as Jack’s mother, Josh Wendt as the Baker, Ali Semenza as the Baker’s wife, Keely Ronish as Little Red Riding Hood, Krystine Scolley as the witch, Matthew Bartolotta as Rapunzel’s prince, and Ken Taylor as Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf, along with the same supporting actors who also were in Friday’s cast.

Josh Wendt, Tony McConnell and Kendra Bell act in a scene from "into the Woods"
Josh Wendt, Tony McConnell and Kendra Bell act in a scene from “into the Woods” Photo courtesy of Kurt Loeffler

Overall, I found the show to be fun, imaginative and a magical experience. I do have some minor complaints, but as I said they did not ruin the fun for me. Like Mr. Dunn, I recommend you go see this show while it’s still running.

With that, firstly, let’s get to what I enjoyed.

POSITIVES

The energy, humor and stage presence of the entire cast can’t be praised enough. The show features a lot of singing, which can be demanding on a performer’s voice, especially the leads, but, they all sounded as enthusiastic and clear in the end as they were in the beginning.

The strongest performers for me had to be Scolley, Taylor, Courtney Tank as Rapunzel, Rebecca Raynor as the narrator, Bell, and McConnell.

Each of these performers brought their A-game, which isn’t meant to take away anything from the other performers who also were incredible, but this bunch stood out just a tad bit more.

My favorite part of the show, which I probably could have guessed before going into it, was Taylor and Bartolotta’s performance of the song “Agony,” both the main song and the reprise.

Stephanie Avila, Morgan Catherine Merja, Michael Thom, Kenneth Taylor and Siomara Zendejas in a scene from "Into the Woods"
Stephanie Avila, Morgan Catherine Merja, Michael Thom, Kenneth Taylor and Siomara Zendejas in a scene from “Into the Woods” Photo courtesy of Kurt Loeffler

It’s a light, funny, manly and joyous bit of theater that is worth the price of admission alone. Both guys do a great job at playing up the machismo needed in a song like this, and they also had a self-deprecating playfulness about it, too.

Some other random things that I really enjoyed include the sassiness of Jack’s mother, everything about Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma, played by the wonderfully talented Melanie Hauer, the way Red brandishes her knife and basically becomes a badass after the wolf is dead, and everything about Scolley’s witch. Her singing was spot on, her attitude befitted a wicked witch, and she was all-and-all a joy to watch. I also loved the way Semenza and Wendt went about exchanging the cow for the “magic” beans. It was probably one of my favorite scenes with the both of them in it. I thought Wendt did a good job as the baker. He made me forget I was watching an actor play a role, and I found myself sympathizing with him quite a lot as the story progressed.

Semenza, too, brought a lot of personality and grace to the Baker’s wife. I particularly loved the way she would get all ga-ga over the prince anytime Cinderella would talk about him. This is easily the best performance I’ve seen from her to date.

Along with Semenza, I saw a lot of improvement in several of the actors I’ve seen in other productions, in particular Siomara Zendejas, who did a good job with Cinderella, even eliciting applause after several of her physical comedy bits. Her singing was better than I’ve ever heard it, as well.

Aside from the actors, I loved all of the costumes, particularly those belonging to Red, Jack, Cinderella and the princes. Great costumes help immerse you into the story, and I felt that immediately here. The set designs, too, worked wonderfully.

I loved the way certain set pieces were opened and closed like big wooden books, and the roundabout turnstile thing that served as different sets for different occasions was top-notch, also.

The story is good, but not great, and the songs are very catchy. I’m still singing several of them in my head and I’m sure I will be for several days.

With that, let’s get to some of the things that needed some work.

NEGATIVES

Now, when I criticize someone’s singing, keep in mind that I’m fully aware at how difficult it is to do well. I like to joke that I can sing well enough to sound like I almost know what I’m doing.

Michael Thom and Ali Semenza interact in a scene from "Into the Woods."
Michael Thom and Ali Semenza interact in a scene from “Into the Woods.” Photo courtesy of Kurt Loeffler

There weren’t a lot of groan-worthy singing parts, but there were some. The good news is that while some of the singing was off-key, most all of the singers were able to recover enough whereas you could forgive them for not quite being where they needed to be.

Everyone’s timing was solid throughout, and I could hear everyone remarkably well, too, something that hasn’t always been the case in past shows. Eric gave kudos to Meghan Wakeley for her job in working with the singers, and I will have to agree with him and say that I could tell that there was a lot of care and preparation that went into each singing part.

And now, while I did enjoy the set design, I had an issue with the cow. It looked like a cow, enough, anyhow, but it just looked kind of like an odd cow. I did enjoy how they played up the fact that it was fake for comedic effect, but the design just seemed a little weird to me.

Some other things I noticed include how in the middle of the second act, the narrator missed a line where she was about to start talking about Cinderella but instead the action just kind of started while she faded off before finishing her line.

There also was a loud mic feedback that rung in the audience’s ears for a few seconds toward the end, and there were a few other tiny technical issues that if you knew nothing about theater you wouldn’t even have noticed.

The story, like Eric mentioned in his review, is a little strange in that it’s very lighthearted in the first half, and then the second half turns into a much more serious tone.

I think the weakest part is right before intermission when all of the story lines appeared to be wrapped up and if you have never seen “Into the Woods” before, you’re not exactly sure where they’re taking it. Especially considering that the first half ends with almost all the original conflicts appearing to be resolved.

They do get to a new main conflict and several other smaller conflicts in the second half, but, it’s a little wonky to end the first half with what feels like could be the end of the show all together.

I guess it’s kind of cool, too, in that you get to see how even after everyone gets what they want that everything isn’t always perfect, and maybe that’s the whole point of doing it the way they do it, but, regardless, you do go into intermission a little unsure about what’s coming next.

All and all, though, each of these sins can be forgiven because of the care, the thought, the passion and the joy that went into putting together this show.

Michael Gilboe has directed another high-quality production and has set the benchmark very high.

After it ended, I left the theater with a smile on my face and a song in my soul. Anytime I can find something that makes me do that, I thank my lucky stars.

STORY: 7/10
PRODUCTION VALUE: 8/10
ACTING PERFORMANCES: 10/10
SINGING PERFORMANCES: 7/10

REMAINING PLAYTIMES:

Sun. (2 p.m.).
Nov. 19-21 Thurs. (7:30 p.m.), Fri. (7:30 p.m.) Sat. (2:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m.)
Cost is $17 for the Friday and Saturday evening shows. All others are $14.
All performances are at the UGF theater.

Editor's Rating

8.5
'Into the Woods' West cast features strong acting, a lot of personality and style even if there are a few rough-ish singing parts.
6 User ratings
8.5

PROS

Everyone brought a lot of enthusiasm, energy, humor, and imagination to their individual parts. The acting was stellar as was the costumes, sound and technical aspects.

CONS

There was at least one line that was flubbed, and several of the singers were a little off-key in moments, but these are nit-picky things that don't take away from the overall enjoyment of the show.
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