BWW Reviews: INTO THE WOODS at Centerstage
If you're in the mood for entertainment both magical and meaningful, step Into the Woods with Centerstage. The play, co-produced with The Westport Country Playhouse and directed by Mark Lamos, is beautifully staged as it trips lightly through a mix of classic stories before turning down a different and darker path.
Lyrics more than music characterize a Sondheim show. He takes pretty settings and then digs up the dirt that lies in the subconscious of his characters. Relationships falter. Love is uncertain. Sincerity may get you somewhere, but deceit will get you where you think you want to go.
The anxiety of parent-child relationships threads its way throughout and takes center stage with strong songs like "Children Will Listen." The interwoven stories and intricate play of music and words requires a tight and talented ensemble of actors. Happily, the cast is up to the task.
As the central character of The Witch, Lauren Kennedy is at her best when disguised as a crone before transforming into beauty. Her duet with her unstable, adopted daughter, Rapunzel (Britney Coleman), laments the necessity of letting go.
Jenny Latimer is a lovely Cinderella who finds that between a nightmare and a dream there's something better "in between." Justin Scott Brown is the amiable Jack whose mishaps with his beloved cow and a bean stalk exasperate his overwrought mother (Cheryl Stern), entangle the entire fairytale population and eventually lead to the end of the world (almost).
Dana Steingold does a clever job with her Little Red Riding Hood , who is more tart than sweet, sharply funny and acerbically astute.
The two Princes Charming (Robert Lenzi and Nik Walker) steal the show with their duet, "Agony," which has the audience laughing ecstatically. A number of other comic moments hit their mark with the help of the two amusing stepsisters (Nikka Graff Lazarone and Eleni Delopoulos), a seductive wolf (Nik Walker in a double role), a desparate stepmother (Alma Cuervo), and an aptly cast mysterious man (Jeremy Lawrence).
The two most modern characters, the Baker (Erik Lieberman) and the Baker's Wife (Danielle Ferland) deal with dilemmas and disappointments that couples encounter in the real world. Lieberman is soulful and sympathetic as he tries his best to fulfill his wife's wish to have a child. Ferland gives a layered performance with a voice unique in its tone and quality.
Smoothly overseeing the venture is the Narrator played soothingly by Jeffrey Denman. But like the other characters, the forest and its power overwhelms him as well.
In the current era of reality television, the show retains its appeal. Audiences drawn in by the glitz on the surface remain hooked by the sordid story underneath. Fairy tale interpretations have as many layers as an onion. Sweet books turn into sweeter Disney movies get translated into more adventurous adolescent adventures and then return to their darker roots where ancient storytellers didn't shy away from violence, vengeance and sexuality. The first act ends so strongly, some viewers may have thought the show ended there. The second act is somewhat heavy on lessons and morals but also has poignant moments like the quartet, "No One is Alone."
How do you grow up and learn to live well and love deeply? We all feel alone and lost in the wilderness. Like the fairy tale travelers, we are brave and anxious, wise and foolish, good and, well, not so good. Kindness eases our isolations, courage rises up, and we accept what lies before us. Ambivalently ever after is how the story really ends.