Full disclosure: I am by no means a theatre buff. I’m more familiar with live performances by bands rather than thespians. After intermission, I called act two the “second set.” But that is what makes an intrinsically inviting performance like Encore Musical Theatre’s interpretation of “Into The Wild” great: you don’t need to be an established theatre critic to enjoy the show.
“Into the Wild” by John Krakauer, broke into the world of non-fiction more than 20 years ago and is still entrancing readers with its Romantic applicability. The book was later made into a film starring early 2000’s heartthrob, Emile Hirsch. So it’s only fitting that the tale expanded to another medium, musical theatre.
For those unfamiliar with this epic tale, I’ll spare you the plot details and summarize in a few words. An unfulfilled, wayward youth goes out on his own: making his way through a series of adventures and encountering a variety of characters that try to persuade him to turn back. His ambition is to end up in the Alaskan wilderness and live off the land.
The protagonist, Christopher McCandless, is played by Conor Ryan, a recent University of Michigan graduate and Broadway performer. He performs McCandless’s wandering soul effortlessly. A clear pro, hitting every note even as his character’s condition deteriorates in the wild. Filling the intimate space with an organic and tragic, beautiful peace.
The theatre is small and the set static, representing a range of mountain silhouettes. Smaller props wheel on and off the stage, but most of the scene changes are communicated to the audience with projection mapped images and videos that appear on parts of the jagged plywood peaks. They work with the space they have and that’s part of what makes productions at Encore so interesting.
A narrowing intensity kept the audience involved in McCandless’s every move. From his charismatic voice to his haphazard swinging of his prop .22 rifle. Even though we all knew it was a prop, I could sense everyone in the theatre felt the same apprehension when he swung the barrel around; even using it as a crutch at one point.
There’s something personal about a small production when you’re one of twenty in the audience. It’s the kind of intimacy that makes you think “Are they looking at me?” every time an actor peers into the crowd. The show is a developmental premier, and the musical has hopes of making it to broadway someday. For a work in progress, I’d say it has legs.
After the show you can head to Red Brick Kitchen, just steps from the theatre, where they’ll serve you White Russians to tie the evening together. After all, what better way to continue the experience than with McCandless’s drink of choice in hand?
Into the Wild runs through May 7