“INTO THE WOODS” AT WESTPORT
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Fairytales often have deeper, symbolic meanings and were generally folk legends that were NOT created for children. Likewise, “Into the Woods,” an award-winning musical by Stephen Soundheim and James Lapine, currently at Westport Country Playhouse, is a fairytale that has both light and dark sides.
The musical derives its name from a journey into the wilderness, usually prompted by a quest for something. The reward can take on many meanings. It could be survival, in order to gain communal acceptance -- similar to college hazing. It could also represent a search for enlightenment and/or the salvation of Humankind. Since the beginning of civilization, almost every culture owes its existence to a perilous journey either into the woods, up a mountaintop, across a desert or via the sea.
Stephen Soundheim is quite candid when he explains that his journey “Into the Wood’s” with lyricist, James Lapine, also began with a quest “...to seek a quick buck.” What developed was a search for a common thread that would link several, well-known fairytales into one grand musical. So, in this work, a cursed baker and his wife are seeking to have a baby. To fulfill this wish, they are required to go “into the woods” and accomplish several, ridiculous quests. Along the way they meet Cinderella, Red-Riding Hood, Repunzel and other fairytale characters who have their own agendas to fulfill.
Act 1 ends with satisfied accomplishments which, depending on one’s point of view, might have been gained through dubious means -- AND, we wish it would end right here. Act 2 is dark and foreboding as fate, in the form of a revengeful giant, a mean witch, and a cursed father brings chaos and misery. Does this tale have “...and they lived happily forever ever after” ending? See the show and decide for yourself.
“Into the Woods” is very delightful but one has to get used to the poetry rhythms in order to appreciate the clever words that are hammered into Soundheim’s dissonant music. However, if you listen carefully, there are tender sequences and traces of his more lyrical melodies in the style of “Send in The Clowns.” The musical’s most emotional songs, “No More” and “No One is Alone,” illustrate this point, but you have to wait until the end of Act 2.
The Narrator, Jeffry Denman, delightfully transports us to the fairyland of the brothers Grimm. Although he resembles “The Toymaker, “ a “Tales of Hoffman” character, it makes no difference who is in control because the mechanism works. We become immediately entranced when this Maestro’s enlarged, children’s theatre magically comes alive.
The moveable scenery by Allen Moyer, and costumes by Candice Donnelly, seems to have popped out of a child’s picture book. Likewise, the effective lighting by Robert Wierzel sets the mystical mood and the sound design by Zachary Williamson is appropriately scary. Wayne Barker directs the live six-piece orchestra, the choreography is by Sean Curran, and the entire cast, directed by Mark Lamos is exceptional. The Baker’s wife, Danielle Ferland and her Baker husband, Erik Liberman are the characters that deftly move the plot and encounter most of the adventures. Lauren Kennedy wickedly plays the Witch, Jennie Latimer is the forlorn Cinderella, the spunky, Little Red-Riding Hood is Dana Steingold, and Nik Walker plays Cinderella’s handsome Prince and also Red-Riding Hood’s menacing Wolf.
This is a wonderful opportunity to grab your whole family and enjoy a Broadway quality musical at Westport Country Playhouse.
This review appears in “On CT and NY Theatre” May/ 2012