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Review Roundup: The Public Theater's INTO THE WOODS in Central Park - All the Reviews!

The Public Theater's production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's beloved musical INTO THE WOODS, part of The Public's 50th Anniversary season at the Delacorte, officially opened tonight, August 9.  

The cast of INTO THE WOODS features Amy Adams (Baker's Wife); Jack Broderick (Narrator); Glenn Close (The Voice of the Giant); Gideon Glick (Jack); Cooper Grodin (Rapunzel's Prince); Ellen Harvey (Cinderella's Stepmother); Ivan Hernandez (Cinderella's Prince, Wolf); Tina Johnson (Red Ridinghood's Granny); Josh Lamon (Steward); Bethany Moore (Florinda); Jessie Mueller (Cinderella); Donna Murphy (The Witch); Denis O'Hare (The Baker); Jennifer Rias (Lucinda); Laura Shoop (Cinderella's Mother); Tess Soltau (Rapunzel); Sarah Stiles (Little Red Ridinghood); Kristine Zbornik (Jack's Mother); and Chip Zien (Mysterious Man). The non-Equity ensemble of INTO THE WOODS features Victoria Cook, Johnny NewcombNoah Radcliffe, and Eric R. Williams.  INTO THE WOODS features scenic design by John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour; costume design by Emily Rebholz; lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design by ACME Sound Partners, puppetry by Rachael Canning, wig design by Leah Loukas, movement direction by Liam Steel; orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; and musical direction by Paul Gemignani

Let's see what the critics had to say... 

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: It breaks my heart to chalk up this production as another example of thwarted hopes...Central Park at night, when the moon rises and the wild things roam, sounded like the ideal and inevitable setting for stories of nature enchanted. Yet very little feels natural in this exhaustingly busy production. On the contrary, pretty much every element smacks of artifice. Admittedly, much of the cast isn't up to the demands of an intricate Sondheim score. But even those who are, like Ms. Murphy and Ms. Mueller, find their numbers undermined by the distractions of frantic and unfocused staging.

Elysa Gardner, USA TodayTimothy Sheader, who directed this production with Liam Steel, brings to the material the right mix of sincerity, whimsy and imagination...Adams is one of several cast members who follow memorable performances - in her case, that of Joanna Gleason, who earned a Tony Award in the original Broadway production - with their own distinctly winning interpretations. There are no real monsters in Into the Woods, just colorful, complicated, conflicted creatures who echo our own hopes and fears - and deliver an enchanting midsummer night's entertainment.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: I wish everyone could experience this exquisitely revived fractured fairy tale, on a balmy summer night in the bosky surround of Central Park's Delacorte Theater...The soul of "Into the Woods" is its incomparable score, in which the ballads have the propulsion of patter songs and the patter songs are imbued with a torchy sense of loss. These characters may have sprung from tales meant for children, but their songs of experience are wholly adult.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street JournalThe Public Theater's outdoor revival of "Into the Woods" is a fine idea-on paper. The show itself remains as flawed as ever. The first act is a flawless exercise in farce-comedy engineering whose book has been rightly praised by Mr. Sondheim as "a lesson in play construction." The second act, by contrast, is a mawkish communitarian fable. (Has Mr. Sondheim ever written a song as soppy as "No One Is Alone"?) A first-class production can paper over the second-act problems of "Into the Woods," but in Central Park you can't overlook the in-your-face preachiness that's missing from the bulletproof first act.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, The NY PostTimothy Sheader's hyperactive staging is effective for most of the first act, but after intermission it fails to bring the often divergent moods into a coherent whole. The problem is that the production - which originated at London's Regent's Park but was recast with Americans - insists so much on busy cartoonishness that it lacks emotional resonance. Without it, you're left with a mere jumble.

Michael Musto, Village Voice: 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.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press:  O'Hare and Adams are interesting choices for the Baker and his wife and deliver sweet if not note-perfect performances. No matter, the rest of the cast is more than capable, even if sometimes the harmonies are a little ragged. Balancing the humor with real pathos isn't easy but they fully commit. Murphy is superb as the Witch, drily sarcastic and evil in her dreadlocks and oversized talons, and equally ravishing and - hungrily aware of it - when her own spell is lifted. Her stunning voice and physicality make it a pity when she gets sucked into the earth, screaming.

Matt Windman, amNY: It proves to be a frustrating, puzzling and poorly conceived production that turns a beloved masterpiece into a mess...Except for the intriguing idea to make the narrator a creative young boy instead of an old man, the rest of the revival is in disarray.  The performances are a mixed bag. As the baker's wife, Adams is vocally strong but lacks distinct characterization. Murphy, despite a few great moments, has pitch problems.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: The bucolic setting of Central Park's Delacorte Theater adds immeasurably to the impact...The ever-reliable Murphy delivers a bravura turn as the Witch, displaying a fierce malevolence that makes the character truly scary. Other standouts include Jessie Mueller's charming, beautifully sung Cinderella; Gideon Glick's endearing Jack; Sarah Stiles' spunky Little Red Riding Hood; and Ivan Hernandez' devilishly sexy Wolf. And then, of course, there is that glorious Sondheim score, featuring such haunting numbers as "No One is Alone" and "Children Will Listen." Beautifully rendered in Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations and a first-rate sound system, it easily makes up for the problematic book that no production ever quite seems to successfully tackle.

Howard Shapiro, The Philadelphia Inquirer: The show, which opened Thursday night after previews, looks great on the various levels of rustic wooden walkways by John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour...And this "Into the Woods" is rich with talent both on stage and in the stagecraft. The show hinges on the commands of a witch - a gloriously colorful performance by Donna Murphy, at the top of her game - who has cast a spell on a baker (Denis O'Hare, whose portrayal is oddly fuzzy and singing, shaky in the second act) and his wife (the film star Amy Adams, strong-voiced in an impressive New York stage debut).

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: The production, which runs through Sept. 1, makes use of every nearby treetop in a madly inventive, crazy-picture-book set designed by John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour. (It's up there that we encounter Soltau's Rapunzel.) Sheader, who directed the show two years ago at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London, has an obvious feel for the show, one of Sondheim's most enduring hits. Here, working with co-director Liam Steel, he's produced once-upon-a-lifetime theater. A

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Let's blaze a path through the pines and get right to it: Without Donna Murphy's vivid star turn as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy-tale musical "Into the Woods," it'd be aninteresting but uneven night at the Delacorte Theater. The Tony-winning actress' trademark airy kookiness and scary moodiness work like a charm for her hilarious and haunting high-def portrait of a crone pained by life and loss. Even with her beauty restored, this is a hag you don't want to cross - but you can't wait until she gets back on stage.

Steve Parks, Newsday: The waggers of this tale are the barren couple: flour-dusTed Baker, Denis O'Hare, whose unremarkable voice empowers him as Everyman, and his wife, beleaguered Amy Adams, who charms us with her folk grit...John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour's Escher-like treehouse set keeps director Timothy Sheader's character flow churning like a storybook Ferris wheel, accented by Emily Rebholz's iconic costumes and Ben Stanton's terror-in-the-night lighting. You could get lost in "Woods" and not care if you emerge from its enchantment.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: But no, the performances in director Timothy Sheader's dissonant treatment - conceived as the dreamed product of a troubled boy's imagination - come across at times as shrill or, even more often, laboriously bedraggled. And most disconcertingly of all is the number of voices that fail to imbue Sondheim's gorgeous score with the necessary color and light. The widespread undersinging envelops a show about outrageous calamity in the thinner air of the ordinary.

 

Wilborn Hampton, Huffington Post: The good news from the Public's revival is that Denis O'Hare and Amy Adams bring credibility and a droll humor to the roles of the Baker and his Wife, qualities that are sometimes lost in other performances that veer toward exaggeration. O'Hare is especially touching in "No More," a duet with the Mysterious Man (a delightful turn by Chip Zien, who played the Baker in the original 1987 production of Into the Woods). 

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Yet there are wonderful moments in this Woods as well. Sarah Stiles offers a hilariously original and aggressive take on Little Red; each line reading is like a little exploding cigar. Also impressive are Gideon Glick and Kristine Zbornik, as the sweetly vulnerable Jack and his exasperated mother, and the cleverly cast Zien as the Mysterious Man (now a beer-swilling drifter). Donna Murphy's Witch, hobbled at first by twiggy crutches and a barklike mask, comes into her own once she's transformed into a beauty; at the show's dramatic climax, she brings down the park with a riveting "Last Midnight."

Erik Haagensen, Backstage: The 22-member company is replete with fine performances. Heading them all is Donna Murphy's commanding turn as the witch. Both comic and scary delineating the witch's twin obsessions-herself and her daughter-Murphy maintains an underlying darkness that serves her well in Act 2. She offers the best witch's rap that I've encountered-crystal clear and acidly humorous, aided no doubt by ACME Sound Partners' superlative work-and her performance culminates in a stunning rendition of the usually problematic "Last Midnight" that's positively chilling.

 

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