BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS Is Everything You Could Wish For, at Broadway Rose
INTO THE WOODS is one of my deserted island musicals, meaning if I'm ever stuck on a deserted island, I can perform a reasonably complete (if off-key) solo rendition to keep myself entertained. Given my personal obsession with this show, what surprised me most about Broadway Rose's production was that it surprised me. The combination of a stripped-down musical score, Jessica Wallenfels' movement-focused direction, and the strongest cast that Broadway Rose has ever assembled brought out the richness of Stephen Sondheim's classic in a way that at times made me feel like I was seeing it for the first time.
INTO THE WOODS is a fairy tale about what happens after "happily ever after." It features many of your favorite characters, including Cinderella, Jack of beanstalk fame, Rapunzel, a witch, and, of course, princes. Sondheim uses these traditional morality tales to explore the complex and ambiguous nature of morality. There are a lot of life lessons in INTO THE WOODS, but what they boil down to is that what's good or bad, right or wrong, is often a matter of perspective.
What makes this production different is the way the music is integrated into the action. Instead of the typical orchestra, music director Eric Nordin plays the entire score on a single piano, while the cast members provide the percussion, sometimes in the background, sometimes as part of their characters. It works splendidly. Nordin is an incredible pianist and his arrangements allow the talented cast's voices to shine. With the percussion filling out the sound, I occasionally forgot there wasn't a full orchestra hiding in the wings.
While the music may be stripped down, the rest of the production most certainly is not. Whatever money Broadway Rose may have saved by having only one musician, they invested in the visual experience - specifically in the elaborate costumes designed by Darrin J. Pufall Purdy - and in a tremendous cast.
In creating her vision for the production, Wallenfels, a choreographer at heart, took inspiration from commedia dell'arte, a genre that uses exaggerated stylized movements. In other words, the actors have to sing, act, play instruments, and also perform choreographed movements. With only a few exceptions, they're able to do this without turning the characters into cartoons.
In the cast of 17, there are no slouches, but there are a few standouts, including Eric Michael Little, who gets my vote for MVP for his emotional performance as The Baker; Erin Tamblyn, who has the biggest voice on stage and uses it to chilling effect as The Witch; and Kailey Rhodes, who brings much-needed depth to the role of Cinderella. And proving there are no small parts, Kayla Dixon makes the most of every moment she has on stage as Florinda, one of Cinderella's evil stepsisters.
IMO, INTO THE WOODS is the highlight of the Broadway Rose season. I recommend it very highly. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Liz Wade