3 ½ stars
In Act II of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” the Baker and Cinderella, two of four main fairy-tale characters who survive the whole, Hamlet-like second act (Little Red and Jack (of beanstalk fame are the other two), explain that choices have consequences and everyone is connected in “No One Is Alone.”
It the characters sound like those folks encountered during childhood bedtime stories they may possibly come to life for some audience members during Act I. but that familiarity ends when Sondheim who composed the music and lyrics and Lapine who wrote the book, offers a scathing reality check in Act II.
The musical, garnering several Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Book when premiering on Broadway in 1987, pulls a moralistic, anti-happily after plot from stories primarily conceived or popularized by 17th century French fairy-tale founder Charles Perraultan (“Cinderella,” Little Red Riding Hood”) and 19th century German folklore authors and collectors, the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Snow White). “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English Fairy tale popularized by Joseph Jacobs started out n 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”
It all starts with “Rapunzel” when a husband steals veggies called rampion or rapunzel from the garden of a next-door neighboring witch to make his pregnant wife happy. The witch catches him and makes a deal to leave the couple alone if they will give her theirthe baby to raise. This story is uncovered when that man’s son, the Baker, and his wife are lonely without children and learn it’s because of the witch’s curse.
And so the musical is about what people wish for and their journey to achieve it. The witch tells them the curse will be removed if the couple brings her a “cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and slipper as pure as gold” in three days.
Thus the musical is populated with the Baker and his wife, the witch, Little Red
(Riding Hood), her granny, the wolf, Cinderella and her prince, her father, step mother and step sisters and dead mother, Rapunzel and her prince, Jack and his cow and mother, a giant and his wife and the palace Steward. Plus there is the Narrator and Mysterious Man.
They all live near and cross each other’s path in the woods. And they learn that what they wished for happened but didn’t bring happiness.
Broadway and Chicago veteran director Gary Griffin has chosen a theater-in-the-round approach something akin to Marriott Theatre for this production. The woods basically hung from the ceiling like Southern live oaks except the main tree, surrounded by patrons, sits and spreads where the stage usually was and hostsed piano/conductor Charlotte Rivard-Hoster who was terrific as was a fine percussion and woodwinds accompaniment.
Having seen several productions of this show, it seems that some casts excel at singing and others in acting. In the Writers Theatre production I felt the singing was adequate but the acting made the show’s 2 hours and 45 minutes worth its long sitting time.
Special mention should be made of Lucy Godinez’ youthful interpretation of Little Red and Ximone Rose’s reluctant Cinderella who always wanted to go to the festival at the palace was wasn’t sure about the prince.
Speaking of princes, Cinderella’s prince, Ryan McBride, and Rapunzel’s prince, Alex Benoit were hysterically funny in the song, “Agony.” Another fun moment was how the stepmother and daughters, bounced their way to the palace.
Given the deaths in the second act, the show is probably more suitable to junior—high aged youngsters than younger.
DETAILS: “Into the Woods” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL through Sept. 22, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 45 minutes. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or visit WritersTheatre.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago