Into The Woods


ROSALIND FRIEDMAN

 

Into the Woods, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s musical salute to “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” has many things to commend it. We know the basic stories well from childhood; much of the score is catchy, albeit interspersed with the Sondheim-modern idiom; the characters are endearing and each is given a turn in expressing themselves in a solo, accompanied here by a real six-piece orchestra.

 

The original Broadway production in 1986 earned Tony awards for Best Score, Best Book, Best Actress for Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason. (It has been 26 years and they both have been nominated for top awards in separate productions this season.) It lost Best Musical to Phantom of the Opera. Into the Woods has won awards for its revivals many times -- the last in 2002 -- and will be performed at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park this Summer.

 

This Westport Country Playhouse interpretation directed by Mark Lamos is marked by doll-like figures that come to life, dressed in Candice Donnelly’s voluminous costumes on Allen Moyer’s lushly elaborate and interesting set, lit bucolically by Robert Wierzel. Jeffrey Denman is a competent and hard-working Narrator. It is unfortunate that he does not get a chance to show off his tremendous dancing skills here. The Baker, a pleasant Erik Liberman, and the Baker’s Wife, a marvelous Danielle Ferland, are the centerpiece of the plot. They are unable to have a child for a spell has been put on them by an ugly witch (Lauren Kennedy). She tells them to collect a white cow, a golden slipper, a red cape, and a strand of yellow hair to remove the hex. We follow their hectic journey searching and gathering these objects.

 

Along the way they meet a naive Jack of Beanstalk fame-Justin Scott Brown, and his Mother -Cheryl Stern, blond Rapunzel- Britney Coleman, the very pretty Cinderella- Jenny Latimer, who has a crystally-soprano voice, two handsome Prince’s- Robert Lenzi and Nik Walker, who is also a sexy, scary Wolf, eating Red Riding Hood and her Nanny.  Dana Steingold, perky and petulant, is a standout as Red Riding Hood.

 

There have been many psychological studies of fairy tales and how they impact and explain our behavior. The main problem with Into the Woods is that it stays too long in the woods. The entire production is almost three hours long. The first act covers a great deal of ground, metaphorically and physically. The second act tries to throw the characters into chaos, but it somehow feels contrived. It is not until close to the end when Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Baker and Jack sing the very touching, “No One is Alone,” and the Company warns, “Children Will Listen,” a number that echoes the message in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, ” that we feel connected once again. Into the Woods plays through May 26.

  



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