Always an odd and unlikely source of solace, fairy tales. Children become orphans, brutality reigns supreme, and nice endings leave us forever dissatisfied with reality.
“Into the Woods” has established its mythos as a soother for grownups thanks to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s clever and frightening exploration of the strangeness and inconsistencies of children’s stories.
The Broadway revival that debuted Sunday night is not just a magnificent lifeline for fans who are rediscovering the delights of live performance after a protracted, gloomy absence.
It’s a crystal-clear stage for fantastic performances from an all-star ensemble of illustrious veterans, and it’s a monument to the beloved musical’s continuing brilliance, now in its fourth Broadway version since its 1987 debut.
This time around, Sondheim is the most incredible behemoth in the sky, and the production’s unmistakable driving concept is exalting his legacy.
The sleek simplicity of director Lear DeBessonet’s staging is partly due to its origins at New York City Center Encores!, where she is the new artistic director and where the production premiered to critical acclaim last spring.
(Previously, Encores! was known for producing lesser-known works for weeklong revivals; “Into the Woods” was the series’ first commitment to presenting one popular favorite per season.) There are no significant set changes or special effects to distract from the score’s slippery-sweet tunes and a cast that appears to be having a great time.
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These written characters have more depth than in storybooks, but “Into the Woods” gives plenty of space for interpretation, and this extraordinary ensemble is feasting on the possibilities.
They are familiar characters representing story themes — innocence, perseverance, knowledge, desire — and unique individuals with their peculiarities and inner worlds. Except when they’re devastating, they’re constantly funny (and sometimes even then).
They’re depressed and hopeful, simply hoping to get to the following midnight. In other words, they’re more like you and me than we previously imagined.
As played by Phillipa Soo, Cinderella is a gentle-souled, indecisive dreamer and a pratfalling klutz with a sharp but unpretentious sense of humor. Sara Bareilles brings vigor and vulnerability to the Baker’s Wife, with a warm and assured humorous touch that permeates every scene.
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That, of course, involves her encounter with a preening and delightfully vacuous Gavin Creel, an MVP of cartoon masculinity in his dual roles as Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf. Creel, whether smelling ladies for lunch or seducing them away from their husbands, is a sophisticated and well-timed laugh riot.
As his gluttonous, red-hooded mascot, Julia Lester is a biting depiction of arrogant and naive nonchalance, a deadpan embodiment of youthful disaffection. Patina Miller’s Witch, on the other hand, delivers her world-weary knowledge with gleeful relish, reveling in her role as a bully who is as needy and frail as everyone else.
Even before the Giant (voiced by Annie Golden) begins making indiscriminate roadkill of the lot, not holding herself too far apart from the others has an equalizing impact. The most cherished star of this production is Sondheim himself, whose work is brought to life beautifully by the agile Encores! Orchestra.
Rather than being hidden away, the musicians take up a large stage area, while the action takes place mainly in the center. Almost no word or note is overlooked.
The design’s refreshing simplicity assists the success of DeBessonet’s minimalist approach. David Rockwell’s intriguing tableau depicts a scattering of birch tree trunks with a moon rising and falling against an ombré sky. Its hues vary like a mood ring thanks to Tyler Micoleau’s lighting, which also adds a delicate richness and shadow to the wood.
Andrea Hood’s costumes, in earth tones and bright colors, define characters without overpowering them. “Into the Woods” is skeptical that bliss can ever be more than transitory – skewering that idea is one of the film’s most merciless lessons.
People, however, do not attend the theatre to study. They go to be delighted – to see, hear, and possibly think, to escape, mourn, and laugh. Isn’t it enough that performance this radiant can make you laugh and laugh (and perhaps cry a little) as the world burns?
Frequently Aksed Questions
Was Into the Woods a Box Office Flop?
“Into the Woods” has quickly become a box-office smash, with three Golden Globe nominations, a best-selling soundtrack, and praise from moviegoers, critics, and even aficionados of the original Broadway show.
Why Is Into the Woods So Well-liked by Audiences?
We all find a bit of ourselves somewhere in the midst of Into the Woods because it delves towards the psyche and treats the journeys into self-discovery and conquering adversity as universal to all people.
Do You Think the Movie Is Scary?
Meryl Streep’s wicked witch may frighten younger children, and giants wreak havoc on the country and harass its inhabitants, but the horrors are mostly moderate.