Star-studded INTO THE WOODS Tour Comes to Nashville for Eight-Performance Run at TPAC

'May Be The Most Impressive Assemblage of Talent We’ve Ever Encountered on the Jackson Hall Stage'

By: May. 24, 2023
Into the Woods
Stephanie J. Block and Sebastian Arcelus in Into The Woods.

Sublimely entertaining (who’s up for a return visit with me before Sunday’s final show?), exquisitely acted (the cast is top-heavy with Tony Award winners and nominees!) and refreshingly presented (even after reviewing so many productions I have now lost count, why am I only now realizing just how funny it is?), the six-time Tony Award-nominated revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods was welcomed with thunderous applause and hearty laughter Tuesday night as the national touring company decamped at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall for an eight-performance run through May 28.

Truth be told, this may be the most impressive assemblage of talent we’ve ever encountered on the Jackson Hall stage in our 30-some years of reviewing Broadway at TPAC. Seriously.

Into the Woods
Montego Glover as The Witch in Into The Woods.

With a star-studded cast featuring players from the musical’s recent Broadway run – including Montego Glover, Stephanie J. Block, Sebastian Arcelus and Gavin Creel and the scene-stealing puppet Milky White (with Kennedy Kanagawa wrangling the puppet through a heartrending performance) – this Into the Woods is as worthy a tribute to the genius of Sondheim as you might possibly conceive, proving the timelessness of his work and its continued relevance in these unsettled times of 2023 America and, perhaps more importantly, its ranking among the very best of musical theater. Ever.

Imaginative and inspiring, Sondheim’s Into the Woods – with a clever and incisive book by James Lapine – answers the musical question “what happens after ‘happily ever after’?” with a quickly moving storyline that sparkles and shines under the direction of Lear deBessonet, who focuses on the ample humor to be found throughout Lapine’s book, sweetening the deal for more casual theater-goers, ensuring that the darker elements in the show’s second act are more easily consumed by theater lovers of differing levels of knowledge and sophistication.

Into the Woods
Aymee Garcia, Cole Thompson and Kennedy Kanagawa
in Into the Woods.

Lapine’s storytelling is direct and to the point, presenting a plethora of characters we’ve all come to know and love from children’s literature, while Sondheim’s lush and melodic score presents them in an astonishingly contemporary and readily accessible manner that provides context and backstory for each of the beloved characters. Act One’s opening number is hopeful and joyous, while “Hello, Little Girl” is deliciously ribald and disingenuously titillating, while “Agony” is richly melodramatic and amusingly droll. The score’s most beloved ballads – “No One Is Alone” and “Children Will Listen” – are as moving as they have ever been (perhaps even more so, considering the stunning performances herein) and offer starkly emotional tributes to the resilience of the human spirit, which feeds every soul within hearing of the live performance.

Into the Woods
Gavin Creel as Cinderella's Prince in Into The Woods

Everyone from Jack (of “and the Beanstalk” fame) to Cinderella and the acerbic Little Red (she of “the riding hood”), Rapunzel, a pair of dashing and oh-so-charming princes, a hideous witch who is transformed into a glamourous diva and the baker and his wife who long for a child of their own is brought vividly to life by deBessonet’s abundantly talented cast who create a fantasyland worthy of the name for each and every audience member, regardless of who their favorite - character or actor - might be.

Chattanooga native and Tony Award nominee Montego Glover, cast as the Witch, presides over the assortment of characters and plotlines collected together to take them further than originally conceived. Regal and imperious (even in her hideous makeup and raggedy raiment), Glover’s sense of timing and commanding stage presence give her the bearing and the gravitas to create a memorable performance and her “Stay With Me” becomes a haunting entreaty to an errant child to return the love she craves, while her “Children Will Listen” is powerful and potent, certain to have an emotional impact that lingers long after the final curtain.

Into the Woods
Stephanie J. Block as The Baker's Wife
in Into The Woods

As the Baker’s Wife, Tony Award winner Stephanie J. Block (who “justifies the beans” with aplomb) gives a spirited performance that underscores her character’s vibrant personality, her determination to be her own woman and to live a life of which she’s long dreamed. Her onstage chemistry with her real-life husband Sebastian Arcelus, as the oftentimes uncertain Baker, is palpable (their “It Takes Two” is a delight), and their offstage relationship obviously informs their disarming familiarity and warmth that ensures rapt attention from every audience member when they are onstage together. Block is wonderfully evocative and deeply moving, but it is her beautiful, expressive voice that truly sets her performance apart, proving there is still so much drama and theatricality that may be mined from a character you think you know better than most. Likewise, Arcelus delivers a nuanced performance that underscores his character’s lack of confidence and self-assurance, allowing for a character arc that packs an emotional wallop: “No More” is startling in its impact.

Into the Woods
Diane Phelan as Cinderella in Into The Woods

Diane Phelan is lovely and appealing as Cinderella, providing her with a steely backbone that proves she is no one’s inferior, and her performance of “No One Is Alone” near show’s end is exquisite. She’s nicely paired with Tony Award winner Gavin Creel as her prince (“I was raised to be charming, not sincere,” he admits late in Act Two), who with his impeccable comic timing and unequaled way with words distinguishes his performance, while his fabulously fey portrayal of The Wolf very nearly steals the show. Creel moves with such grace and ease, in whatever role he plays, that he is quite frankly charm personified.

Cole Thompson, as Jack, is innocence personified when first we meet him as his mother (Aymee Garcia is all maternal wisdom as his long-suffering mom) forces him to take his beloved pet cow Milky White (designed by James Oritz and brought to life by Kennedy Kanagawa’s heartfelt manipulation) to market in order to feed his starving family. As the plot progresses, Jack encounters the giant and his wife, succumbs to temptation and thievery, and allows us to watch his evolution into a capable, if uncertain, young man buffeted by the passage of time in Act One’s fantasyland turned devastated, post-apocalyptic hellscape of Act Two.

Into the Woods
Katy Geraghty as Little Red

Katy Geraghty is perfect as the acerbic and mercurial Little Red, showing off the comic skills and timing that belie her relative youth. Bossy and bold, Geraghty’s Little Red is devilishly appealing.

As Rapunzel’s Prince, Jason Forbach brings requisite charm and good looks (the descriptive "tall, dark and handsome" may have become part of the vernacular to describe him) to his role, exhibiting his actorly bona fides while winning hearts and going toe-to-toe with aforementioned charming Creel. Alysia Velez is in fine voice as Rapunzel, proving herself as fine a tower-dwelling would-be princess we’ve ever seen.

Nancy Opel, Ta’Nika Gibson and Brooke Ishibashi are swell as Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, while David Patrick Kelly embodies the ideal “Mysterious Man” who figures prominently into the proceedings.

Performed on scenic designer David Rockwell’s elegantly simple, yet gorgeous, set, Into The Woods is a visual feast, thanks to Andrea Hood’s lovely costumes (although my one quibble about the show remains the fact I didn’t care for the costumes of Cinderella’s stepfamily) and the atmospheric lighting designed by Tyler Micoleau.

Into the Woods
Nancy Opel, Brooke Ishibashi, Ta'Nika Gibson,
Diane Phelan and Gavin Creel

Lorin Latarro’s choreography dovetails beautifully into deBessonet’s pitch-perfect and stylish direction for this unforgettable – and awe-inspiring – production.

Conductor John Bell and his amazing orchestra (which consists of a coterie of musicians who travel with the company, along with some of Music City’s most respected players) are onstage throughout the show, as it has been since this production’s initial staging as part of the Encores concert series, but which seems particularly appropriate in Nashville, where we have the utmost respect for musicians and venerate their efforts as often as possible. The lushly transcendent score is performed with passion and great professionalism.

Tickets, we suspect, are rather scarce for the remainder of the show’s Nashville run, but you owe it to yourself and the memory of Stephen Sondheim to witness this grand art for yourself. Do whatever you must to see Into The Woods.

Into The Woods. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Lear deBessonet. Musical direction by John Bell. Music supervision by Rob Berman. Choreographed by Lorin Latarro. Stage managed by Scott Rowen. Presented by Broadway at TPAC. At Andrew Jackson Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. Through May 28. For tickets, go to Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with one 20-minute intermission).

photos by Michael Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


Krysta Rodriguez Will Return to INTO THE WOODS For Final Weeks of National Tour Photo
Krysta Rodriguez Will Return to INTO THE WOODS For Final Weeks of National Tour

The National Tour of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods will welcome back Krysta Rodriguez to the company, playing Cinderella for the production’s final weeks of the national tour engagement.

Video: Cast of INTO THE WOODS Talks Opening Night in Los Angeles Photo
Video: Cast of INTO THE WOODS Talks Opening Night in Los Angeles

BroadwayWorld was at the final opening night for the Into the Woods tour, as the production begins its final engagement in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater. See what the cast had to say about bringing this production to cities across the country.

Review Roundup: INTO THE WOODS Hits the Road, What Are the Critics Saying? Photo
Review Roundup: INTO THE WOODS Hits the Road, What Are the Critics Saying?

The tour of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods officially opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC earlier this year. Read the reviews for the tour of Into The Woods here!

Photos: Inside Opening Night of INTO THE WOODS at the Kennedy Center Photo
Photos: Inside Opening Night of INTO THE WOODS at the Kennedy Center

Check out photos from opening night of the tour of Into the Woods at the Kennedy Center!


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