When I started writing this blog four years ago, I knew that I would have to draw some boundaries about the shows that I would be reviewing. Because I've been involved in theater for decades, and because I teach at the Boston Conservatory, I have many friends and students who are involved in local productions. And in the interest of maintaining those friendships, and allowing my students the opportunity to develop their craft in peace, I established two ground rules:
2. I don't directly address the performances of my students until they have graduated.
Then along came Into the Woods at Reagle Players in Waltham, MA. Reagle is one of the more prominent theater companies in the Boston area, and is particularly well known for bringing in Broadway-caliber performers to headline their shows. They also frequently rent the costumes and sets from recent Broadway productions of the shows they do. The results are often pedestrian but sometimes inspired.
This particular production of Into the Woods featured five current and recent students from the Boston Conservatory: Elizabeth Berg, Emily Goldberg, Bryan Miner, Brennan Roach, and Greg Stone. In addition, the show was directed by an old friend of mine, Stacey Stephens, who in fact directed me when I played the Baker in Into the Woods a few years back. So, normally, this would be a classic example of a production that I would steer clear of in terms of reviewing it on my blog.
But the show also featured the delightful Rachel York as the Witch, and I knew that there would be considerable interest among my readers as to how she fared in the role. So, I decided to blog about the production, but only in terms of Ms. York's performance, as well as that of her fiance, Ayal Miodovnik, for reasons that will become clear later.
I've long been an ardent admirer of Rachel York, based upon her performances in such shows as Dessa Rose and Kiss Me Kate. And, for the most part, York demonstrated here why she's had such steady work in the theater since her breakout role as Mallory in City of Angels. She's got a dynamite belt, a strong stage presence, and a great way with a wry one-liner. (She was certainly the only redeeming quality of the otherwise execrable 101 Dalmatians.) Her rendition of "Stay With Me" was particularly affecting, evoking a palpable sense of the Witch's fear of isolation.
Although York admittedly brought a great deal of animation to the role of the Witch, sometimes it was a bit too much. "Our Little World," the song that Stephen Sondheim wrote for the show's first London production, was particularly over-the-top. York pushed the comedy a bit too aggressively in a character voice that sounded like Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies." Some might consider that a valid choice, but for me it obscured the meaning and potential pathos of the song.
York also demonstrated some problems with breath control and lyrical mastery, particularly during the Witch's opening patter, during which she garbled a few of the trickier lines. ("I'm telling you the same I tell queens and...queens...") I'm not privy to the details of the production process for this show, but what frequently happens with guest stars is they get plugged into the product at the last minute. It's possible that York was a trifle unrehearsed.
On a final note, York seems to have come to the Reagle Players as part of a package deal with her fiance, Ayal Miodovnik, who played Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf. Miodovnik's program bio quizzically lists nearly as much about his management and business accomplishments as his theater credits. Well, Miodovnik here demonstrates that, as an actor, he's a great businessman. His performance was inconsistent, to say the least. He didn't really seem to be playing any one particular character, bringing a different hammy countenance to each subsequent scene. Also, during "Agony" he pronounced the word "frustration" as "fuss-tration," which is reason enough to hit anyone with a sock full of manure.