BWW Reviews: The Keeton Theatre's Enchanting INTO THE WOODS Packs An Emotional Wallop

BWW-Reviews-The-Keeton-Theatres-INTO-THE-WOODS-Packs-An-Emotional-Wallop-20010101If experience teaches us anything, it is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions (which is actually a proverb, but you get my drift) and that every other season or so, some theater company will mount a new revival of Into The Woods, the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical that paints a slightly skewed vision of several beloved characters from the "fairy" tales of The Brothers Grimm. Next week, in fact, New Yorkers will be treated to a star-studded production of the show in Central Park, but they have nothing on Nashvillians who are benefitting from the current production of the show now onstage at our very own Larry Keeton Theatre.

In fact, director Kate Adams and musical director Ginger Newman have crafTed Nashville's own lovely and, I daresay, star-studded version of the musical which simply proves once again that Into the Woods is one of the most enchanting, most entertaining and most moving examples of contemporary musical theater at its best. No matter how many times you've seen the show-for myself, this is probably the eighth or ninth staging I've seen, including Broadway, national tour, regional and local productions-the expertly crafted book and the awe-inspiring score still resonate, transporting you to another world, more fanciful than the one in which we live, yet imparting wisdom that can easily be applied to the real one in which we daily struggle with many of the obstacles faced by those fairy tale characters.

Hence, my reference to the proverb about the road to hell, for as those characters make their way deep "into the woods" in search of a better life or the answer to some conundrum through which they are working, the best of their intentions lead them straight into the abyss (aka hell, to my way of thinking). It's pretty heady, actually, and quite the intellectual quandary that is pondered by the habitués of these so-called fairy tales. Close examination reveals that in all of the stories related-Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Baker and His Wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel-the moral of the story quite often seems to be that despite their best intentions, parental figures in the stories don't have all the answers and that most of the trouble that ensues can be traced directly back to poor judgment on the part of authority figures.

Thus, in its very tuneful and intriguing way, Into The Woods questions our own reliance on the lessons taught by our parents and on our own decision-making process in full view of younger generations. The musical's recurring themes are particularly stirring in times of economic difficulty and political turmoil/upheaval-in an election year, when we're asked to choose between two father figures, both of whom are telling us they know what's best for us.

Perhaps that interpretation sounds at once to be too complex and too simplistic, but I urge you to give it some thought after the curtain draws shut on The Keeton Theatre's superb production of Into the Woods, which features some outstanding performances and which represents the very best of "community" theater in every sense of the word. 

Led by an exceptional turn by Mallory Gleason in the role of The Witch that has been made justifiably famous by such actresses as Bernadette Peters and Vanessa L. Williams, The Keeton's Into The Woods is beautifully performed amid the sumptuous trappings of Jim Manning's exquisitely conceived and artfully realized set design which evocatively captures the musical's genesis in the books of our childhood.

Adams confidently directs her cast through the piece, her skilled eye and practiced directorial hand evident throughout as she creates stunning visual tableaux that bring the stories to life and interconnect them with a certain air of grace. Newman ensures that Sondheim's score is performed beautifully, using only two musicians on keyboards to give the show a full sound that is somewhat amazing given that very fact; the score is played with thorough commitment by Lee Druce and John Todd under Newman's assured conducting.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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