‘Into the Woods’ weaves together classic fairytales post-‘happily ever after’

Tituss Burgess as The Witch and Marina Pires as Rapunzel // Photo Courtesy Justin Namon
Tituss Burgess as The Witch and Marina Pires as Rapunzel // Photo Courtesy Justin Namon
Tituss Burgess as The Witch and Marina Pires as Rapunzel // Photo Courtesy Justin Namon

Cinderella dreams of attending a ball, Jack sells a cow for a handful of beans, a witch locks Rapunzel in her tower, and a baker and his wife long for a child before they all find themselves into the woods. The stage is set for these traditional stories to unfold in the production “Into the Woods” at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theatre through Feb. 15. The musical weaves together classic fairytale stories into a narrative that leads audiences to discover what happens following “happily ever after.”

However, when their wishes get out of control, the storybook ending crashes down on these characters. In the second act of the play, the stories begin to unravel when the characters must once again go back into the woods, this time in fear for their lives. Before, the woods were full of promise and hope, but now uncertainty and fear. The lighting echoed the grim mood with eerie green lighting and harsh shadows.

The production is part of the Arsht Center’s “Theatre Up Close” series and was staged by DreamCatcher Theatre Company, created by Natalie and J.J. Caruncho, a brother and sister team who are Miami-natives.

In telling such well-known stories, the actors had to find a balance between relying on archetypical molds of characters and breaking free from the page into a world filled with struggles.

The ensemble was created with care, as each performer presented remarkable vocals fitting each role perfectly, from the high soprano of Cinderella (Annemarie Rosano) to the rich tenor of The Wolf (Justin John Moniz). Most impressive of all were the ensemble scenes as the cast of 20 appeared on the intimate Carnival stage, providing a powerful stage picture. The bright, colorful costumes, strong choreography and dynamic vocals combined to create something marvelous.

J.J. Caruncho had a dual role to play as both the co-artistic director of DreamCatcher Theatre and the Baker – and he excelled in both. With his warm voice and sincerity, he made the Baker someone to root for, and added a level of realism through his carefully-placed comedy and exploration of his frustrations.

Broadway veteran Tituss Burgess was announced for the role of the witch, a character traditionally played by a woman. In the first act, he did a seamless job leaving audience members none the wiser that there was anything different in this portrayal of the iconic figure. His powerhouse vocals shone, as did his sharp sass. However, in his more tender moments singing “Our Little World,” it felt he was reaching to hit the notes as he sang in falsetto. However, in the second act, he commanded “Last Midnight.”

The Baker’s Wife (Arielle Jacobs) also exuded charm and powerhouse vocals in “Moments in the Wood.”

The two princes were a farce of nobility parodying the traditional “charming prince” role. Cinderella’s Prince (Moniz) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Matthew Janisse) deftly handled the hilarious musical number “Agony,” which was a highlight in the first act.

The actors made clever use of the intimate stage, making audiences feel the woods stretched on for miles. However, the microphone inconsistencies were disappointing as the audience did not want to miss a single note.

For those who have seen the recent Disney film adaptation of the same name, the play provides a richer look at these characters, allowing for more moments between the audience and the performers. Because there is less of a time constraint, there are more comedic moments and the characters share more of their backstory and are more developed.

In particular, the second act shows these typically two-dimensional fairytale characters facing the reality of tough decisions about life, death and morality. The principle actors did an excellent job of going beyond the storybook by presenting the character’s doubts, fears and frustrations.

Although Little Red Riding Hood learns that “nice is different than good,” DreamCatcher’s production of “Into the Woods” defies that by turning the page on the classic storybook telling. This whimsical musical will leave audiences feeling this not-so-happily-ever-after is a dream come true.