This past weekend, the St. Olaf Lyric Theater put on its fall production, “Into the Woods.” Staged in the round in Urness Recital Hall, the three-hour production had no trouble drawing laughs, which may come as a surprise to those whose only experience with the iconic musical is the 2014 film adaption by the same name.
Typical of St. Olaf, the production had no shortage of vocal talent. Sally Olmstead ’20 and Jacob Wilde ’21 gave particularly beautiful vocal performances as Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s Prince, respectively. However, while the vocal abilities were impressive, at moments it felt as though displaying the cast’s vocal prowess and technique was the sole goal of the production. As the entire company joined in to finish out the opening number, “Into the Woods,” the sound was one more characteristic of a church choir than a group of musical theatre actors. Even among characters in which one would expect to have a distinct vocal presence, there was a stunning lack of vocal variety. The vocal performances were technically well-done, but often did nothing to heighten the character development.
The same can be said for the acting in the production. When watching “Into the Woods,” it was apparent that this was a production put on by the music department, mainly featuring music majors. Acting, character development and motivated character choices did not appear to be priorities of the production. That being said, there were actors that stood out from the crowd. Logan Luiz ’20 graced the stage as The Narrator and Mysterious Man with physicality and vocal quality that created a fitting atmosphere for a fantasy tale. And thanks to her expressive performance, Cait McCluskie’s ’20 rendition of “Moments in the Woods” as the Baker’s Wife packed more of an emotional punch than other numbers in the show. Emily Geiger ’20 was another joy, consistent in her peppy skip and spirited quips that characterized her portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood.
During the first act, the use of comedy made up for other areas in which the production was lacking. The two princes dancing together in “Agony,” the deadpan humor of Kjell Redpath’s ’20 Jack and Milky White’s (Jenna Leonard ’21) mere presence frequently had the audience in fits of laughter. However, the effectiveness of this humor did not carry over into Act Two. In an act that revolves around death, adultery, blame and other heartbreaking subjects, the production continued to use the same comedic strategies without considering how the tonal shift may have also necessitated a change in the comedic approach. This resulted in the second act of the production feeling disjointed and uncomfortable, with the comedy distracting from the message of the piece.
Overall, it is clear that this production of “Into the Woods” had no lack of musical talent and there were certainly moments of merit within the work, but unfortunately, individual talents did not culminate into a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.