Into the Woods

Summer Stock Austin's talented teens tease out the enchantment in Sondheim's magical musical

Austinites have the good fortune to live in a city replete with artistic opportunities for youth and adults alike. One such staple in the youth theatre community is Summer Stock Austin, a tuition-free program that affords high school and college students the chance to perform in and mount multiple productions over the course of the summer, while collaborating with professionals in the area. Going strong since its introduction in 2004, the program's 11th season remains appealing, featuring productions of Guys and Dolls, Tortoise & Hare, and Stephen Sondheim sensation Into the Woods.

I caught Into the Woods, directed and choreographed by SSA co-founder Ginger Morris, on opening night, and the cast's energy leapt off the stage – a necessity for bringing its classic fairy tale characters to life. As you may remember, once upon a time there was a baker and his wife who would do anything to have a child, and a witch who promised to fulfill their desire if they completed a quest to obtain (sing along, now!) "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold." Along the way, the couple encounters the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and beanstalk-climbing Jack. Unlike classic fairy tales, though, the show focuses on the dangers of being consumed by desire and gives us a glimpse at what happens after happily ever after.

Saying that the music in a Sondheim musical is gorgeous is almost redundant, but it's certainly worth noting that Into the Woods is widely considered to be among his most beautiful scores. Still, its music can be quite challenging, but the fine young performers here rise to the occasion, handling the complex material so capably that it's easy to forget they're not already professionals.

As the couple whose narrative drives the show, Donelvan Thigpen and Korina Lurie give excellent performances, with Lurie adding a comedic spark to the production with very witty interpretations of her lines. Also hilarious are Connor Barr and Gray Randolph as the narcissistic princes; "Agony" is one of my favorite numbers here. Adding yet more to the comedy are Sarah Yoakley, Victoria Brown, and Kalie Naftzger as Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters, all of them playing their characters' snootiness well. As Cinderella, Stephanie Toups is a joy to watch and listen to, her voice a lovely complement to Sondheim's score. And as the two youngest characters, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood, Matthew Moore and Hannah Roberts are both fantastic, their performances smart, funny, and on the mark.

Theada Bellenger's set design, featuring ominous (and interactive!) vine-filled woods, and Teresa Carson's costumes are the perfect final ingredients to transport the audience to this imaginary world of witches, magic, and giants. A few snafus with sound and lighting cues were evident opening night, but they should be easily corrected during the run. Overall, Summer Stock Austin's talented teens serve up Sondheim just as well as a troupe of seasoned professionals.

Into the Woods

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Through Aug. 16
Running time: 2 hr., 10 min.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Summer Stock Austin
Summer Stock Austin Gets Fired Up to Go Back Onstage
Summer Stock Austin Gets Fired Up to Go Back Onstage
Cheer up with Bring It On: The Musical

Robert Faires, July 16, 2021

Summer Stock Austin's <i>How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying</i>
Summer Stock Austin's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
This musical succeeds on the infectious energy of every member of its enthusiastic cast

Trey Gutierrez, Aug. 2, 2019

More Arts Reviews
Review: Zach Theatre’s <i>Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone</i>
Review: Zach Theatre's Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone
A masterful tribute to the father of the Great American Songbook

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 22, 2023

Review: Zach Theatre’s The Girl Who Became Legend
Review: Zach Theatre's The Girl Who Became Legend
World premiere of epic Americana folktale delights young and old

Bob Abelman, Sept. 22, 2023

More by Elissa Russell
<i>Forever Plaid</i>
Forever Plaid
Austin Theatre Project's staging of the popular musical hits all the right notes

Aug. 28, 2015

<i>Sophisticated Ladies</i>
Sophisticated Ladies
Zach Theatre's revival of this Ellington revue is just like Sir Duke's music: elegant and wildly entertaining

July 31, 2015


Summer Stock Austin, Ginger Morris, Stephen Sondheim, Donelvan Thigpen, Korina Lurie, Stephanie Toups, Connor Barr, Gray Randolph, Sarah Yoakley, Victoria Brown, Katie Naftzger, Matthew Moore, Hannah Roberts, Theada Bellenger, Teresa Carson

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle