Into the Woods
Musical theater legend Stephen Sondheim died last November, and director Kristianne Kurner writes that “his passing has influenced every aspect of the production” of this, one of his most famous creations (with collaborator James Lapine). The musical’s first act cleverly weaves together the storylines of a number of fairy tales — Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk — by sending their characters…well, you know where. All sorts of things happen in the woods; it is, after all, the undomesticated place where desire meets experience and complications arise and adventures ensue. But these are fairy tales; part of the pleasure is knowing how they end. That’s the privilege of living in an ordered world with established boundaries. Except when you go into the woods, the woods go into you. Kurner writes, “To me, the first act feels like the beginning of 2020..we all had an idea of what our lives would be like. Then COVID hit…” And so Act Two sets about hauling Act One’s stories for children into the very grown-up world of unintended consequences, moral confusion, and rampant death. It’s not much fun, but the music is dazzling enough to make it entertaining all the same. You start by smiling over a husband’s wayward eye, then nodding over a wife’s wayward kiss, then downright enjoying a cavalcade of acrid recriminations before things get really serious. The magic of theater! Kurner: “We come out the other side still searching for hope, but it’s now a bruised and battered hope.” Sondheim, whose 11 o’clock number “No One is Alone” serves as both comfort and caution, might approve. The show itself is a lot, but the production works hard to keep it simple. Criss-crossing green boards overhead represent the woods; a trio of arches serve as homes for everyone but Jack and Rapunzel, who get a hovel stage right and a tower stage left. The songs do a lot to convey their own drama, but Tanner Vydos’ wolf and prince and Sydney Joyner’s baker’s wife do a particularly fine job of acting through the lyrics. The trickiest bit is Rae Henderson-Gray’s all-important witch: she’s a complicated character, but her performance is complicated by the presentation, and there are times when the emotions and even lyrics get lost in the costuming. She comes into her own when things come apart.
Ongoing until Sunday, May 1, 2022