Review: Millennial’s ‘Into the Woods’ Is Sheer Enchantment

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It is not often that you review a show this early in the season and can predict that it will top the list as possibly the best area show of the entire season. But that is exactly the case with the Millennial Theatre Company production of “Into the Woods,” which opened at the Hopewell Theatre Saturday. The Millennial has set the bar high for every other theater.

“Into the Woods,” by the late Stephen Sondheim, is a complex weaving of various fairy tales with all of them crossing paths throughout the entire show. And believe me, these are not the fairy tales you grew up with.

The evening was set right from the start even before the first note of music rang out with a setting that topped the charts for the small stage at the Hopewell. A dark forest dominates the stage but also serves various other locales downstage. It is topped off with a castle tower at stage right. With great preshow lighting to enhance the nooks and crannies, the adventure was ready to begin.

“Prologue: Into the Woods” serves to introduce the audience to the main characters of Cinderella, A Baker and his Wife, a Witch, Jack, his cow Milky White, Jack’s mother, and Little Red Riding Hood. The Narrator also helps to navigate those introductions. This number helps to set up the complicated premise of the story that follows.

Natalina Kazimir offers up a truly enchanting Cinderella. She captures the audience’s heart instantly with a clear singing voice and a good grip on the character. Her nuances and reactions keep the audience’s attention firmly gripped in her hand the entire evening. She is in near perfect form with “No One Is Alone” in Act II.

The Baker, played by Jacob Nash, is a many layered character, as are most Sondheim characters. Nash is in full command of the role with a matching vocal quality. As strong as he is in Act I, he comes full circle in Act II as the character fights through one emotional crisis after another. His wife is portrayed by Courtney Martin. Martin takes full advantage of every moment she has on stage and although she isn’t as strong vocally as some of the rest of the cast, she makes her mark in numbers like “The Cow as White as Milk” and “It Takes Two.” Her versatility shows through in the second act.

Every good fairly tale has a Witch and “Woods” has a great one in the person of Sarah Kinser. Her wicked performance is just that, complete with very well done makeup. The problem with this role, however, is in the “Prologue.” It is driven with fast paced lyrics and a fast tempo. You need an actress with excellent enunciation to get the words out clearly. She faltered in that respect. But she more than makes up for it with great vocal moments in “Stay With Me,” “Lament,” and “Last Midnight.” Plus her transformation fits right in with the fairy tale magic.

George Maillis gives the audience a lovable Jack as he sets out to sell his cow Milky White and becomes embroiled in the ensuing storyline. His acting and singing are strong as he switches up emotions in a heartbeat throughout. He gets to show off his vocal ability with “I Guess This Is Goodbye” and “Giants In the Sky. His mother, played by Roz Blystone, is benefited by Blystone’s considerable acting and singing ability, coupled with great comedic timing.

Milky White is actually one of the tougher roles in the show. Milky White is actually a huge hand puppet controlled by actor Daniel Chiaberta, on his knees. What makes this character even more fun is that the audience can watch Chiaberta mirror the movements and emotions of Milky White. They blend together into one.

Halina Bakeris is a deceiving Little Red Riding Hood. Cute, perky and innocently vulnerable when the audience first sees her, Bakeris does well in revealing the Little Red Riding Hood that nobody ever knew. Don’t go into the woods looking for this kid!

Other notables in this cast, and there are many, are Daniel Gordejev and Emilio Santiago, who play Cinderella’s Prince and Repunzel’s Prince, respectively. These two are in top form as they give each prince the appropriate over-the-top treatments. Gordejev also plays The Wolf in Act I with a great facial mask and grotesque paws along with a slimy smoothness.

Karlina Wander plays a great Repunzel with an exquisite voice. She isn’t onstage as much as some of the rest of the cast but her appearances are memorable. Ben Doss does well as the Narrator but unfortunately the canned music obliterated many of his lines and I was only sitting about 20 feet from him. Tommy DeLuca is a great pop-up character from time to time as the Mysterious Man. Cinderella’s Stepmother (Ty Hanes) along with Samantha Hudzik and Hannah Stephens as the step-sisters provide great comedy.

Director Joe Asente has put together a masterpiece at the Hopewell, 702 Mahoning Ave. From set, to lighting to staging, “Into the Woods” is something you won’t want to miss. The difficulty level of this show is very high but Asente and company made it look like they have been performing this for months with ease. This was Broadway tour quality.

“Into the Woods” will continue Oct. 2, 9 at 2 p.m. Oct. 7, 8, at 7:30 p.m.

Pictured at top: Halina Bakeris in Millennial Theatre Company production of “Into the Woods.”

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