Theatre Review: “Into The Woods’ at the Lockport Palace Theatre

“Into the Woods” was thrust back into the cultural spotlight with the 2014 feature film starring a colorful cast of Hollywood and Broadway performers. It weaves numerous fairy tales into one flowing narrative, an emotional roller coaster. Lockport Palace Theatre, taking a step forward in their own story with a beautiful internal restoration and remodeling, presents the Sondheim classic with a well-staged and comprehensive production.

. . .[an] efficient and successful production.

“Into the Woods” only works when there are no weak links, when the entire ensemble is strong. The Palace has assembled an extremely capable cast, made up almost entirely of Palace regulars. Serving as the story’s Narrator, Jon May takes the audience along for a ride into the fairy tale world, aided by an unbelievable set design. May understands the nuances of the comedy and has the audience in the palm of his hand from the first chord. The story centers around the Baker (Bobby Cooke), the Baker’s Wife (Kelly Ersing), Jack (Zach Thomas), Little Red (Rheanna Gallego), and Cinderella (Emily Prucha). All these primary characters must travel into the woods in search of something. In the Baker and his wife’s case, to reverse a spell placed on their family by the next-door Witch (Taylor Carlson) that has kept them childless. The story evolves from here, detailing triumphs and tribulations in the journey of these main characters.

As the Baker and Baker’s Wife, Cook and Ersing are a perfect pair. Cooke has an indescribable charm in this role and brings an honest and organic portrayal to the character; we believe he will do anything to get a child, and yet he puts the feelings of others before himself, even when it means sacrificing a necessary item to lift their curse. The role sits right in his vocal range and makes for wonderful renditions of the Sondheim score. He is particularly good in his Act Two “No More.” Ersing is his match in every way. She is a stellar singer and can handle the serious moments too; her “Moments in the Woods” is a master class. Thomas handles Jack’s naivety well, without creating a caricature, and is a capable singer to boot. Gallego is perfect for the role of Little Red, she manages to play both the “sour” and “sweet” of the storybook child who loves to snack. Gallego brings depth to the character from the get-go, which is uncommon in most portrayals. Finally, Prucha’s Cinderella channels more Anna Kendrick (film) than Kim Crosby (Original Broadway); she’s a modern woman for sure. In this performance, I felt Prucha took a few scenes to warm up to her usual sharpness, but her Act Two was extremely strong. She’s off to get her wish and ends up marrying the less than charming Prince (Ricky Needham). He and his brother (Jackson DiGiacomo) are the stereotypical spoiled princes, but Needham especially brings humanity to the Prince. He is to be commended, as this is no easy task; the audience is supposed to dislike the Prince in Act Two, but Needham at least creates understanding.

Though all these performances are strong, the real standout of the evening is Taylor Carlson. She’s had terrific performances at the Palace before, but this one transcends even her normal successes. Everything is well rehearsed, tight, and executed almost flawlessly. She is an unbelievable vocal powerhouse, but she possesses a subtlety in this role I’ve not seen in her work before. This is clearly a dream role for her, and she plays it with a dream-like quality. It’s worth the price of admission itself.

“Into the Woods” is a wonderful piece of theater that is very difficult to execute with absolute perfection. My only complaint with the Palace production is one I can potentially attribute to only being two performances in. I felt like the pit was below performance quality; I heard frequent mistakes and jumbled tempos, which affected the actors onstage in turn. This was a small blip in an otherwise efficient and successful production.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one-15 minute intermission.

“Into The Woods” runs untilNovember 11, 2018 and is presented at The Lockport Palace Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid’ at Lockport Palace Theatre

The cast of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” at Lockport Palace Theatre.

Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of Broadway’s current trend of movie-to-musical conversion. “Legally Blonde,” ”Shrek,” “Mean Girls,” “Groundhog’s Day,” “School of Rock,” “Newsies,” the list goes on. I prefer original stories, and am usually not thrilled to sit through a musical that originated as a movie I’ve seen a thousand times.  For that reason, I’d be lying if I said that I was over-the-moon excited to go see “The Little Mermaid” at Lockport’s Palace Theatre last night. But boy was I misguided; I can’t recall a time that I’ve had more fun at the theatre.

. . .exciting, engaging, and a fun night at the theatre for the whole family.

I pray to Poseidon that your childhood wasn’t so sheltered that you need a plot synopsis of “The Little Mermaid,” but just in case you were raised under a rock (or a reef): Set under and above the high seas, this classic Disney adventure tells the story of Ariel (Emily Prucha), King Triton (Kyle Beiter)’s youngest daughter, and her wish to become human. After falling in love with the handsome Prince Eric (Ricky Needham) in the world above, Ariel bargains with the evil sea witch Ursula (Taylor Clarson) to trade her tail for legs. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her friends Flounder the fish (Rheanna Gallego), Scuttle the seagull (Robby Syruws), and Sebastian the crab (Jake Hayes) to restore order under the sea.

What a talented cast! Jake Hayes and Robby Syruws were completely hysterical, and perfect for the roles of Sebastian and Scuttle. Taylor Clarson’s Ursula was terrifying and her laugh gave me goosebumps; if you’re familiar with the character, you know that’s intentional. Emily Prucha’s acting, dancing, and beautiful voice soared during “Part of Your World” and other big vocal numbers.  Most particularly, this production’s ensemble singers and dancers wither superbly good, especially during “Les Poissons” and “Kiss the Girl.”

Director Christopher Parada and Choreographer Dyan Mulvey were quite creative in finding fun ways to depict fish, crabs, and birds on stage via human actors. Particularly clever was their choice to have Ariel, Sebastian, and many of the other actors wear shoes with wheels attached so they could gracefully “swim” on stage.  

Without a doubt, the strongest and most stunning component of this rendition of “The Little Mermaid” was the production design. Of all the community theatre productions that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many), I’m hard-pressed to think of one that had more impressive costumes, lighting, special effects, and set design. I quite literally felt my jaw drop during “Under the Sea”, the show’s flagship musical number that featured multi-colored lights, bubble machines, and cast members entering the audience dressed as illuminated jellyfish.

This production wasn’t without its imperfections, albeit small ones. The ending felt a bit rushed, particularly the moment when it’s revealed that Ursula was actually responsible for the death of Ariel’s mother (up until this point in the show, Ariel thought her mother was killed by humans). Though it’s not a critical plot point, it was easily missed if you weren’t familiar with the show; in general the dialogue sometimes felt a bit rushed. There were also several instances throughout the show when the orchestra—though they sounded great—fully drowned out what was happening on stage. That all being said, these are small nitpicks that shouldn’t keep you from going to see this otherwise fantastic production.

Curtain Up’s production of “The Little Mermaid” at the Lockport Palace Theatre is exciting, engaging, and a fun night at the theatre for the whole family.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“Disney’s The Little Mermaid” runs until March 18, 2018 and is presented at Lockport’s Palace Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Billy Elliot The Musical’ at Lockport Palace Theatre

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The Cast of “Billy Elliot The Musical” at Lockport Palace Theatre.

Societal norms tend to dictate what we as people can and cannot do with our lives. To this day, a person who tries to make a career for themselves in the arts is still looked at as an underachiever, while a person who decides to have a career that possesses no creative necessity is thought of as a success. The norms of society have a huge power over the citizens who reside in it, but I believe that it is those who break these social norms and take their own paths, that are truly the most successful in life. These trailblazers are the ones who make the world a better place.

an admirable effort, bringing together fantastic young and veteran talent.”

“Billy Elliot The Musical” tells the tale of a town that is down on it’s luck. The men in the community have been on strike for a last year from the mine. They try to wear the unions down by striking and taking down scabs that cross the picket line, but find a great deal of difficulty providing for their families. The Elliot family is in the thick of it as well. Young Billy (Seth Judice) takes weekly boxing classes, but does not have a real knack for it. He’s small, he’s petite, he isn’t really built for a boxer’s life. After staying late after one class, Billy is introduced to Mrs. Wilkinson’s (Lisa Ludwig) ballet class. When Billy shows great potential in being a dance, he starts honing his skills. After two months of lessons, and winning over the approval of his father (Geoff Koplas), Billy auditions for a spot in the Royal Ballet Company school.

Leading the show as the child dancing prodigy is Seth Judice. Judice instantly wins the audience over as the ‘everyman’ in this piece. His dancing abilities will put you in awe at the amazing movement that he is able to bring to the stage. His performance of “Electricity” makes you want to jump to your feet and cheer. He is perfectly cast as the lead in this show, and does not disappoint.

Lisa Ludwig brings a great comic performance to her portrayal of Mrs. Wilkinson. Ludwig is able to play the uptight ballet instructor, and then with the flip of a switch, delivers a maternal performance that is full of heart, compassion, and love. Ludwig is a high point of the production.

Geoff Koplas plays the conflicted single father, Jackie Elliot, well. He brings a great sense of pride, pain, and love to the role, and his character possesses the strongest character arch in the show. You feel for him as he tries to support his family by breaking his morals and crossing the picket line to earn for his family.

Backing up the principle players is a great ensemble that assists in creating a wonderful night of theatre.

Since the show takes place in a small english town, the cast performs with the necessary accents. Accents are always tricky because they can make or break a performance. Overall, the accents in this production are easily understood, but at times you really need to pay close attention or some of the lines and dialogue will be missed.

Under the baton of David C. Stacey, the orchestra performs the wonderful score by Elton John. The orchestra is always one of my favorite parts of seeing a live performance at the Lockport Palace, because their attention to detail allows for a wonderful musical experience for all!

The Curtain Up Production’s presentation of “Billy Elliot The Musical” is an admirable effort, bringing together fantastic young and veteran talent. Director Christopher Prada mounts a production that moves nicely, and entertains fully, all the while displaying wonderful production value.

Running Time: Approximately 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15 Minute Intermission.

Advisory: Some Adult Language

“Billy Elliot The Musical” runs until July 23, 2017 and is presented at the Lockport Palace Theatre in Lockport. For more information, click here.