BWW Review: Garden Theatre's INTO THE WOODS is their Best Show Yet
"Anything can happen in the woods."
And in the Garden Theater's production of INTO THE WOODS, many, many things happen there. The Sondheim favorite has been adored by theater-goers the world over since it's opening night in 1987. With its combination of fabled fairytales, witty music, and intricate storyline, it's no wonder this show has enjoyed staying power over the years. But staying power can be dangerous as well - a theater never wants a beloved production to start to feel stale or aged. A theatre-goer may love "Into the Woods," but how do you make it fresh and new but still keep that beloved quality to the production?
The Garden Theatre has mastered that conundrum with this masterful and inspiring show. Instead of the story opening on the fairytale characters the audience knows and loves, the show begins in a library that seems to be covered with the pieces of the storybook land the audience is about to discover. All of a sudden, a boy enters the stage and begins to narrate the story as he reads from one of the library's books. Throughout the show, the boy narrator pops up. It gives the show a more magical feel as the play progresses, and I appreciated the Garden Theatre's different take on the narrator. The set doesn't change much from the library, and I worried that a stripped-down version of it might not truly open up the fairytale world enough. But my worries were unfounded - Scenic Designer Joe Klug and Master Carpenter Mark Sansing did an amazing job of opening up the space and using it in a versatile way.
The vocal intricacies and the complex score of the show are another thing that make INTO THE WOODS a classic in the theatre world, and it's crucial that the cast gets the timing, pitch, and rhythm correct in order to emotionally draw the audience in. Some numbers are quick, witty, and fun, while others are meant to open up a character and bring the audience down to the more human, non-fanciful realities of the character. I'm happy to report that the vocals in the show are second to none. There was not one number where I found myself thinking "Well...they could use some work." The caliber of skill and range of the cast was truly amazing. In particular, I found myself with my jaw on the floor whenever the witch (played by Shannon Bilo) took the stage. Her rendition of "Last Midnight" was absolutely sublime and her ability to transform not only her physical appearance but her demeanor when she became young and beautiful was a treat to see. It's truly hard however to pinpoint just one cast member when it comes to vocal talent - while there were definitely a few standouts, the entire cast did an amazing job of bringing these beloved songs to life.
If you've ever seen a production of INTO THE WOODS, it goes without saying that the characters are so much more than just fairytale characters living in a perfect fairytale world - they have real problems and these problems are meant to help the audience relate to various themes within the show. That being said, it's not easy to be both whimsical and real, but the cast does this with such ease that you almost forget you are watching a story that takes place in a magical land with magic beans, spells, and princesses. On the whole, this show is a metaphor for dealing with life and the actors did not just tell the audience this but help them feel it as well. Andrea Stack's portrayal of the baker's wife is a perfect example of this. What she and her husband want more than anything in the world is a child - but as they journey into the woods to appease the witch in order to make this happen, the couple learns about each other and their true nature. There are a few moments in the show where Stack's acting ability is so superb and more than just fairytale fun - for instance, in "It Takes Two," Stack is so full of joy and appreciation for her husband, but when she encounters Cinderella's Prince and finds herself in a compromising position, she gives herself to the Prince wholeheartedly and is changed for it. Afterward, in her rendition of "Moments in the Woods", she is a completely changed character, and while she severely questions her decision, Stack's ability to show the rawness and unabashed human-ness of this character is astounding.
Truly though, the entire cast and production team should be applauded for this production. It may just be the best show I've ever seen at the Garden Theatre, and I hope the trend of outstanding vocal talent and widely talented actors continues for them. I encourage you to get tickets and take the journey into the woods... you may be a little, as Red Riding Hood says, "excited and scared" but I promise you won't be disappointed! You're in for a treat!
INTO THE WOODS at the Garden Theatre runs now through May 28. Tickets can be purchased at gardentheatre.org.
So, did you enjoy INTO THE WOODS as much as I did? Let me know! Don't forget to follow BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter by clicking below. You can also connect with me about this show and all things theatre by following me on Twitter @libbychamps.