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A CurtainUp Review
Into the Woods
By Elyse Sommer
According to Chip Zien, the original Baker, (as quoted in the biography), the first act felt so satisfyingly finished that audiences at the pre-Broadway run in San Diego tended to head for the parking lot. He recalls hearing Sondheim tell people to go back, that the show wasn't over.
Despite mixed critical reviews Into the Woods enjoyed a 764 performance Broadway run, won numerous major awards (two of its three Tonys for best score and book) and became one of the most often produced of Sondheim works. Now, a newly staged and somewhat revised version has opened on Broadway, again preceded by a trial run in California. As Laura Hitchcock who reviewed it there for CurtainUp put it "It feels fuller somehow and has more resonance, perhaps because of the inevitable comparisons with horror from the sky and the essential bonding that is our only sure defense."
Since the Los Angeles production featured the same cast and creative team as the one I saw at a recent press preview, I won't duplicate plot details here but refer you to Laura's review which also includes a picture of Vanessa Williams before she metamorphoses into her more attractive person Into the Woods in LA. What follows thus focuses on my own somewhat different reactions to the show.
The story-telling title song is well worth reprising. "Agony" is an amusing, character-building gift to the princes who sing it. You have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by "No More." Even though I wasn't bowled over by Vanessa Williams, either before or after she cast off her ugly witch gear, "Lament " remains a powerful musical theater song. That brings us to some of the special pleasures and disappointments of the show's latest incarnation.
As for the male characters, John McMartin is an able and genial narrator (also doubling as the Mysterious Man), but top honors go to Greg Edelman and Christopher Sieber as two pricelessly funny princes. They do full justice to their "Agony" duet and, in a change from the original production which featured a lone wolf, they get to play sibling beasts as well as royals. Edelman is particularly funny as Cinderella's suitor whose roving eye prompts "Any Moment" with the Baker's Wife and an interchange that has him shrugging off his infidelity with "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."
Adam Wylie is an appealing Jack. His mother, as played by Marylouise Burke, is best described by the comment by the Baker's wife upon finding herself in the arms of Cinderella's prince: "What am I doing here. I'm in the wrong story." Burke, a fine comic actress, seems to be, if not in the wrong story, in the wrong genre with singing capabilities that are, to put it mildly, meager.
Molly Ephraim's real little girl Red Riding Hood cum fox is, as our LA critic aptly summed it up, "precise, tart and anathema to cute." Stephen De Rosa, whose work I've enjoyed in a number of other plays, seems to have been directed to keep his comic gifts in check for his portrayal of the Baker. He does nevertheless manage to bring an endearing quality to the role and capture the wistful sadness of "No More." The cast's strengths generally are built on acting and singing but not dancing talent so John Carrafa has wisely kept the dancing a lot simpler than his inspired and high energy choreography for Urinetown.
The staging overall is bewitchingly, storybook perfect. Douglas W. Schmidt has created giant volumes of story books that fly open into a world reminiscent of Arthur Rackham's illustrations. He has inventively used the spine of one of those books as Rapunzel's tower. Brian MaDevitt, a wizard in his own right, casts the forest into haunted, shadowy light. Susan Hilferty contributes her usual savvy skills as costume designer. She has outdone herself with the outfit that makes Milky-Way a deliciously, expressive character -- with an adept assist from the actor turned life-sized puppet, Chad Kimball.
A footnote: Though not listed in the program, the recorded voice of the Giant's Wife belongs to none other than Dame Judi Dench.
Into the Woods in LA
CurtainUp review of Stephen Sondheim, a Life
Into the Woods-- original cast DVD
Into the Woods-- original cast NTSC
Original Cast CD
Original LondonCast CD
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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