If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Into the Woods” Opens Westport Playhouse Season
Only Stephen Sondheim could return the “grim” to fairy tales with such ingenious, melodic style! Witness the solid revival of the composer’s “Into the Woods”, currently opening the Westport Country Playhouse’s 82nd season, and marvel that the 25th anniversary production of the musical still seems so fresh and inventive in the telling. Enter these “Woods” with high expectations and be rewarded.
With book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Mr. Sondheim, “Into the Woods” has a ball deconstructing the Brothers Grimm in an even darker hue than those now politically incorrect fairy tales ever were. Employing such familiar characters as Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Ridinghood, the Baker and his wife, a Witch and Rapunzel, Sondheim and Lapine give a rather straight-forward (albeit adult-minded) account of their stories as each ventures into the forest. Emerging from the woods just before intermission, most have apparently achieved “happily ever after”. But stick around for the second act as the creators further explore the repercussions of these adult actions. It’s not always pretty.
What remains very pretty, however, are Sondheim’s gorgeous melodies and under Mark Lamos’ assured direction (with musical direction by Wayne Barker and staging/choreography by Sean Curran), these “Woods” are alive with some dramatic song stylings. “Children Will Listen” is still one of the composer’s most perfect creations and it’s delivered in full, glorious voice by the entire company in Westport. Danielle Ferland, the original Red Ridinghood back in 1987, takes on the role of the Baker’s Wife here with stout-hearted conviction. She’s a delight in the duet, “It Takes Two” with Erik Liberman’s fine, sad-sack Baker while bringing stirring pathos to the lovely ballad, “Moments in the Woods”. Lauren Kennedy’s commanding Witch roars into view with every entrance and her exit number, “Last Midnight”, is a powerhouse. Most memorable of all is the performance of Dana Steingold whose Little Red Ridinghood is equal parts adorable and deadly. When this Red pulls a knife in the darkly funny second act, you have no doubt she will use it.
Lamos’ canny concept of using his Narrator (an excellent Jeffrey Denman) as a puppet master pulling all the strings, is an interesting one that doesn’t upstage Sondheim’s knowing ode to responsibility and growing-up. Yes, blame Sondheim if you will for a bit of repetition in act two (we get the point before his characters do), but when the singing starts there are few complaints. The design team is also due credit here. Allen Moyer’s storybook scenic design, Candice Donnelly’s picture-perfect costuming and Robert Wierzel’s magical lighting tie together this gift from the Westport Playhouse with flair. It’s a present you won’t want to return.
“Into the Woods” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through May 26. For further information or ticket reservations call 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is Chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.