BWW Review: Charlottesville Opera Offers a Fresh and Fantastic INTO THE WOODS at the Paramount Theatre
"Careful the things you say. Children will listen. Careful the things you do. Children will learn."
No matter how many times audiences have visited the titular setting in Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS, it's likely they've never seen the woods quite like in Charlottesville Opera's clever and masterful production running through August 5 at the Paramount Theatre. With only a handful of performances remaining, this reviewer highly recommends journeying INTO THE WOODS at the Paramount Theatre.
For anyone unfamiliar-One of Sondheim's most produced musicals, INTO THE WOODS weaves together some of the most renowned fairytales from Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, but its message is anything but "happily ever after." What happens when morality and structure are tossed out the window? Just as in the real world, INTO THE WOODS is about the consequences our choices have. More importantly, it's about the impact on future generations.
Raymond Zilberberg's conceptual take on INTO THE WOODS is garden-fresh and brings the Narrator's story full circle. He brilliantly sets the story in a library, a place where fairytales are prone to come to life. The Narrator (Patrick Jacobs) is the library janitor. "Milky White" is fabricated from a book cart. The woods grow into the bookshelves, and from the ceiling of the library, once it becomes overrun with memorable characters like Cinderella (Leah Edwards), Little Red Riding Hood (Deborah Grausman), The Baker (Adam Alexander) and his Wife (Sharin Apostolou), and Jack (Brian Gleber) and the giant beanstalk. During the lengthy opening number, audiences may ask themselves where the creative direction is heading. The production, its setting and all the surprises ahead raise the celebrated absurdity of the story to another level-and it truly delivers.
Andy Anderson's top-shelf orchestra, and the large cast of Broadway and operatic veterans, effortlessly execute Sondheim's challenging score. Jung Griffin's sturdy and thorough library set, including towering shelves and thousands of books and secret passages, is magical and sets the tone for this production. Christina Watanabe's lighting design of blues, whites and pinks further adds to the enchantment. Summer Lee Jack's stunning costumes are a perfect balance of the illusory and the real world, bringing some edge to the story.
Leading the incredible ensemble of characters is Adam Alexander, delivering a layered performance as the Baker-with a glorious baritone voice to boot. Sharin Apostolou navigates the woods and a range of emotions with ease as the Baker's Wife. Leah Edwards brings subtlety and an enthralling voice to the character of Cinderella. As Cinderella's Prince, and the Wolf, Christopher Job offers the silliness of a cartoon and the sincerity of a character in one breath. It's because of his charisma that the understated staging of "Agony" works so well. Brian Giebler may have outgrown the beanstalk but proves that age doesn't matter onstage, bringing loads of energy and childlike mannerisms to the pivotal role of Jack. His spotless tenor vocals are a highlight of the production.
What legitimate fairytale would be without a villain? As the Witch, Rena Strober casts a delicious spell on this production with the perfect balance of dramatic flair, comic timing and a gorgeous voice.
While the characters are familiar to children, INTO THE WOODS contains moderate adult themes. Of note, Charlottesville Opera is mounting a shortened, family-friendly iteration of the production on Sunday, August 5.