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Into The Woods–the 1986 Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine show about fairy tale characters coming together and learning lessons–is being done in the woods of Central Park in a gimmicky but vigorous production directed by Timothy Sheader with codirection by Liam Steel.
The show has always basically been a three-hour “I Want…” musical. (The first song literally has the cast singing “I wish…”)
It’s a fleshed-out “Weekend in The Country,” setting up various needy figures who are childless, milkless, or hapless, and who embark on a scary but exciting trip to get what they need–usually from each other.
The result is episodically filled with humor, pathos, shtick and morals.
I never thought it was top-drawer Sondheim–shoot me for thinking the big message song “No One Is Alone” sounds a bit like a dark version of “Candy Man”–but there’s appeal there as various parent-child relationships evolve amidst the unwieldy landscape of four interconnecting stories that weave in and out via singing and bantering.
In this outdoor version, the impressive set by John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour consists of steep wooden stairways flanked by trees and leaves, with a grotto for Rapunzel (Tess Soltau) to trill notes and drop her hair from.
The mostly imaginative costumes by Emily Rebholz are sassy and punky, with a hint of Addams Family in the woods.
And among the cast members, Donna Murphy excels as the Witch, especially scoring in her fiery “Last Midnight” number in which she makes all sorts of demands then disappears into a hole.
Sarah Stiles is wryly funny as an unkillable Little Red Ridinghood, complete with a crash helmet and an Instamatic camera.
And while Denis O’Hare is the endlessly frustrated Baker, Chip Zien–who played the part in the original production–is now his dad, proving that we all become our parents.
As the Baker’s Wife, Oscar nominee Amy Adams doesn’t go for sardonic humor as much as shmatte-wearing earnestness, and though the result tends toward blandness, she sings nicely.
The other performers range from very good to OK-but-not-as-good-as-someone-I-may-have-seen-in-one-of-the-other-versions.
Act Two brings a Giant–cleverly achieved via effects and Glenn Close‘s voice–which represents the phantom result of bad decisions and icky fears.
On come the deaths–and the metaphors.
And this version interestingly makes the narrator a child, who’s working out his issues with his own father, as the end justifies the beans.
Some of this production’s choices are head scratchers and a few scenes need better direction, but by taking bold steps, it fills these fractured fairy tales with enough yearning spirit to create a richly enjoyable musical meditation on parenting, responsibility, scapegoating, and compromise.
I wish…you’d see it.