BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Winspear Opera House

Into the Woods holds a special place in my heart. It was the first show I saw live oh so many years ago, and it was one of the first shows I studied and worked on creatively. So, naturally, I make appoint to see every possible version I can. After hearing about the Fiasco production a few years ago, I knew that it was something I'd want to check out for myself, and this national tour now in its last leg does not disappoint.

Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, this stripped-down production (played with 11 on stage performers as opposed to the traditional 18-20) tells the classic intersecting stories of your favorite fairy tale characters as they pursue their wishes and what happens after happily-ever-after. However, this productions commitment to dynamic, movement and character driven communal theatre sets it apart. The stories are refreshed as they are pieced together by objects around the attic-like stage - shadow puppetry, paper, and taxidermy make up this enchanted forest instead of period costumes and trees. The set design, inspired by the deconstruction of pianos, by Derek McLane is truly something special. The ropes as piano strings upstage catch the gorgeous lighting of Christopher Akerlind just right, and the intimate space transforms into a Wood that does not lose the forest for lack of trees.

The alternative space and direction, filled with humor and knit-wear, is not the only fresh take on an otherwise classic show; the performances themselves depart from the original cast we know so well, and though I missed a few bits of inflection that I'm so used to, at large the cast made each character their absolute own. The standout of the evening had to be Darick Pead, who manages to play a Cow, a Prince, and a Stepsister within a matter of minutes. Pead's physical comedy and presence stole every scene he was in - which was most of them. Eleasha Gamble's Baker's Wife is markedly different from Joanna Gleeson of the OBC, the timing, and text taken in a totally different direction. While in early Act 1 I missed the lines and text that I was so familiar with, I grew to love how Gamble forged her own path and created a character that was completely new from material that some might read as set in stone. Strong performances by Vanessa Reseland (Witch), Patrick Mulyran (Jack), and ALanna Saunders (Little Red AND Rapunzel) are just some from the ensemble cast.

All an all a strong Into the Woods - what is special, though, is the staging and interpretation. This is why you should take the time to see it. I'm a sucker for this new genre of meta-theatrical performance that we are seeing in shows like Great Comet, and Fiasco's work here creatively builds entirely new stories, pulling the audience in as if to join the cast sitting at Jack's feet during "Giant's in the Sky", reshaping Cinderella's aspirations as "On the Steps of the Palace" is performed as if in an opera hall. I'd be remised if I failed to mention Lisa Shriver's choreography, which whirls around ladders in transition, sweeps the stage with a piano mid-song, and ties the whole package together.

Despite a few opening struggles, including muddled sound - I missed some of my favorite lines simply due to mics not being cued in time, Fiasco Theatre's Into the Woods at the Winspear Opera House was a joy. While some may cry sacrilege at the liberties taken on such a staple of Musical Theatre, what Fiasco manages to achieve by introducing new musical arrangements, creative staging and casting, and a "not-taking-it-too-seriously" attitude reshaped one of my favorite shows into a delightfully fresh experience. About to close, this charm-filled fairy tale is worth a trip into the woods.

Into the Woods runs at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center through May 28th.

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From This Author Samuel Weber

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