Playhouse on Park’s production of “Into the Woods,” which runs through August 22nd, is enchanting, mysterious, and beautifully sung, thanks to director Sean Harris and Music Director Melanie Guerin. The youthful cast’s energy and gorgeous voices combine to convey the world of fairy tales as re-imagined by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book). And Playhouse on Park’s intimate theatre space brings us deeply into the woods and into the characters’ fervent wishes, which propel the show.
“Into the Woods” combines four well-known fairy tales and one—The Baker and His Wife—that was created specifically for this musical. Most viewers will have at least some acquaintance with “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Rapunzel.” However, the story of the Baker and his wife, who long for a baby more than anything, holds the other four tales together, along with a mysterious Narrator who weaves in and out of the action.
A hideous witch, who is herself cursed, promises the couple a baby if they bring her what will lift her own curse and render her beautiful again: a gold slipper (glass in other versions of “Cinderella”), a cape “as red as blood,” a cow “as white as milk,” and hair “as gold as corn.” So the Baker and his wife leave their house for the woods, where they meet the other characters, each of whom express passionate wishes for that which will change their lives.
The performances are almost uniformly excellent. Standouts include Laurel Andersen, who is completely convincing and charming as the Baker’s Wife (her duet with Cinderella’s Prince, “Any Moment,” is especially well done); Kara Arena (Cinderella), whose voice and acting are both remarkable; Jacquez Linder-Long as an adorable Jack with another gorgeous voice; and the two princes, Cinderella’s Prince, Jack Dillon (who also plays the Wolf), and Rapunzel’s Prince, Isaac Kueber. Their duet, “Agony,” is hilarious, not only because of Sondheim’s writing, but because both young men have such charisma and are clearly having so much fun. Every other actor/singer gives his/her/their roles terrific energy.
The set, designed in autumnal colors by David Lewis, is spooky and makes excellent use of the small, three-quarter stage. Kate Bunce’s costumes are evocative, and Johann Fitzpatrick’s lighting design guides the viewer expertly through the action. Darlene Zoller and her assistant, Hillary Ekwall, have created lovely choreography throughout.
My only wish—speaking in the show’s language of wishes—is that Director Harris and Music Director Guerin had trusted the cast’s singing enough in this small space either to go without mics or to turn the mics down. However, the ear adjusts, and this is a relatively small objection.
“Into the Woods” is a challenging show, and Playhouse on Park handles it masterfully. This is a wonderful way to finish out the summer. We need magic, and you will find it here.
Tickets are $40 ($35 for seniors and students), and you may purchase them via www.PlayhouseOnPark.org and www.ConnecticutShakespeareFestival.org, over the phone at 860-523-5900 x10, or in person at the Box Office at 244 Park Rd. West Hartford, CT 06119.
In addition, STUDENT RUSH and LUNCH TIME SPECIAL tickets are available for this production. Visit www.playhouseonpark.org for tickets and more info.
STUDENT RUSH: Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain. They are $10 per student if you pay with cash, or $13 if using a credit card. You must present a valid student ID. Limit one per person.
LUNCH TIME SPECIAL: Tickets are available between 12pm – 1pm for the performance occurring that same day/evening. They are $10 each, cash only. Tickets must be purchased in person at the Playhouse on Park box office.