Lyric Theatre ventures over the river and ‘into the woods’

Sergio Hernandez (left), junior vocal performance major, played the Baker, and Nicole Cascione, junior music education major, played the Baker’s Wife in Lyric Theatre’s production of ‘Into the Woods.’ (Christopher Lombardi / Staff Photographer)

Springing from towering storybooks, characters of classic fairy tales began their own interwoven tales of dysfunction. Familiar faces emerged from the forest of pages, presenting adventures that oscillated between moments of tragedy and joy, and inspired terror with their realistic undertones.

The Lyric Theatre’s production of “Into the Woods” on the Kendall Hall Mainstage on Friday, Oct. 22, captured the spirit of original tales, such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Repunzel. The fairy tale medley adds its own moral agenda — of course, what’s a fairy tale without one? — warning against the drastic consequences of parents’ actions on their children.

The Lyric Theatre embraced the unrealistic nature of the play with a forest of stacked books and a sky of suspended, open books, allowing fog and shadows of tree branches to suggest the setting. Though a less literal interpretation of the “woods,” it seemed fitting that these characters should scale, explore and become disoriented in a forest of their own stories. Actors ran off-stage — and sometimes even sang within inches of audience member’s faces — not just breaking the fourth wall, but demolishing it. Kendall became a grim playground perfect to play out the triumphs and tragedies of these characters.

Despite jarring technical difficulties that distorted the recording of the giantess’s voice, as well as painful missed microphone cues, leaving many talented voices subdued — but luckily audible — actors adapted to conditions that could otherwise prove disastrous. During Act II, when the giantess demands Jack, the recording went silent and panic settled on the faces of the cast. Conor Greene, sophomore Spanish and communication studies major, as the Steward, broke the silence by asking the giantess to repeat herself, a hilarious and relieving save.

Laura Grant, junior music education major, as the Witch perfected the hag demeanor, complete with nasally sighs and a hunched waddle. Though she impressed during her explanatory “Beans” rap, it was during “Lament” in Act II that Grant showcased the range and ability of her voice.

Doubling as the Narrator and Mysterious Man, a combination that proved hilarious when a strategic blackout enabled him to comment on his own death, Ian Highcock, senior music performance major, commanded the role as the Narrator with a booming, yet slightly condescending tone, an essential quality for his omniscient character.

The Baker, played by Sergio Hernandez, junior vocal performance major, and the Baker’s wife, played by Nicole Cascione, junior music education major, were thoroughly convincing in creating a husband and wife dynamic. Cascione’s expressions really brought her character to life, which she carried into her singing, especially during “Moments in the woods.” Though Natalie Pica, sophomore vocal music education major, as Cinderella adopted a more reserved, choral demeanor throughout, the persona worked in favor of her regal character.

The other royalty of the play proved excessively charming. Raymond McCue, senior Spanish and secondary education major, as Cinderella’s prince, and Nicholas Dogas, senior music education major, as Repunzel’s prince, were hysterical. Combining an inflated, condescending tones of voice with somewhat dainty, faux-suave swaggers, the two brothers beautifully mocked the prince charming standard.

Joseph Tible, sophomore civil engineer major, as Jack was the perfect picture of dopey innocence, delivered with wide-eyed enthusiasm and devotion to his pet cow. Kasandra King, sophomore secondary education and history major, as Little Red Ridinghood, adopted a slightly annoying, yet feisty attitude, communicating the girl’s age and character. Her domineering presence served as a comical contrast to that of Jack.

The Lyric Theatre’s production, which was sponsored by the Department of Music, ran four performances, Oct. 21-24.

Katie Brenzel can be reached at brenzel2@tcnj.edu.