BWW Review: Brooklyn's Theater 2020 Makes its Way Into the Woods
The world is a creature of habit - we continue on the same path, yet each time believing with renewed hope that things will turn out differently. A young girl, traps within the confines of an unloving home, makes another wish; her words float on unchanging winds. A baker and his wife make another attempt at conceiving a child, only to face disappointment. A naïve boy pleads with his mother to keep a sickly cow, while privileged princes fall in love but succumb to the unending call of adulterous desire instead. Although, sometimes introducing a little change isn't so bad. Without it, this colorful cast of characters that comprise Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods would never be forced to confront the "what if" of the courses they choose. What hasn't changed, though, is the quality of Theater 2020's productions. At this point, audiences can simply expect excellent performances, now transporting us into the woods that are fantastical of spirit as the cast and crew who now bring a professional production of Into the Woods to a Brooklyn stage.
Theater 2020, the only professional theater troupe in Downtown Brooklyn, once again proves itself as a force to be reckoned with with this lovely production of Into the Woods; theirs is a force that brings with it the power and influence a dramatic performance ought to have. The group's past productions of other Sondheim favorites - from Sweeney Todd to Assassins (both of which I was fortunate to see) - established this group one that can bring the gift of theater by means of professionalism and extreme talent. Into the Woods, from the difficulty (and length) of Sondheim's music to the harrowing experiences these characters compel the actors to act through with all their might, is certainly not for the theatrically faint of heart. Under the direction of David Fuller, this very talented cast perfectly combines the whimsicality of a fairy-tale world with the reality of morality and consequence. Now in performances at St. Francis College's Founders Hall, you do not want to miss the beauty that is Theater 2020's Into the Woods.
With music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, Into the Woods tells the "once upon a time" stories of various characters who must venture into the mysterious woods for their own reasons. While Little Red Riding Hood is off to visit her grandmother, the Baker and his wife must collect items their witchy neighbor demands in order to lift the spell of infertility from their home. Cinderella dons a beautiful gown and attends the ball, runs from a very eager prince and continues to do the same thing for nights to come; Rapunzel is more welcoming of her prince's admiration as she remains locked in a tower without doors. Jack is given beans in exchange for his sickly cow - a simultaneously naïve and destructive choice. All enter the woods for different reasons; in this production, a refugee resettlement camp represents this world beyond what any of these characters know. With beautiful (and incredibly catchy) music and lyrics conveying everything from the agony of pursuit to how the maid is only somewhat smitten with the prince, Into the Woods is everything that a lover of musical theater could ask for.
Sondheim has a knack for bringing such depth to his characters, which is almost contradictory to the whimsicality of this fairy-tale world; this is what makes Into the Woods so intriguing. Theater 2020's touch brings an added vitality to this show that not only speaks wonders of its professional quality, but also brings a phenomenal cast that actually appears happy to tell this story to the stage. Donned in casual, somewhat mismatched attire with small giveaways to the roles each plays, this production is so riveting that it easily keeps the audience eager for the next moment to come (for two and a half hours' worth of moments!). Scenes are made that much better due to little nuances that make this plot that much more engaging: Milky White's facial expressions, for example, how priceless (and perfect) our two princes are side by side and how much of an absolute diva the witch is; you have little choice but to marvel in the fun they have with their abilities.
Under Fuller's direction, both the subtle comedic and more dominant dramatic sides of this plot are handed over to us in perfect balance; we are very receptive to the plot's dark undertone, but this cast easily brings the story to a cohesive, satisfying whole. This cast utterly shines - navigating a set made of simple platforms and dominating the stage in their Muppets t-shirts and fluffy down jackets, this production proves that a wonderful show depends on how well an audience can admire the efforts of those who capture their attention for almost three hours; this cast are collective masters at doing just that - an added plus, they do it extremely well!
With accompaniment provided by the lovely Suzanne Jalbert Jones (a one-woman orchestra that effortlessly tackles Sondheim's score), this cast deserves all the accolades they can get. David Andre, David Arthur Bachrach, Torian Brackett, Alexander Coopersmith, Alexa Crawford, Julia Goretsky, John Jeffords, Elizabeth Kensek, Rudy Martinez, Bess Morrison, Josephine Spada, Tomo Watanabe and Shuyan Yang round up all those who enter the woods. Joining them backstage are Costume Designer Matthew Lott, Lighting Designer Giles Hogya (who complements the plot perfectly with his colorful, mood-setting displays), Choreographer Judith Jarosz, Production Stage Manager Jen Wiener and Assistant Stage Manager Kristina Voznick.
Into the Woods began performances at Founders Hall (located within St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights) on February 21st, and will run thru March 17th. This is a limited run of 16 performances. Tickets are $40 general and $30 for seniors/students. Reservations can be made via credit card through Brown Paper Tickets at www.theater2020.com, or by emailing email@example.com (at the door, cash only). Please visit www.theater2020.com for the schedule of remaining performances.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: John Robert Hoffman