BWW Reviews: The MUNY's Awesome INTO THE WOODS at Forest Park
I purposely avoided the recent film version of Into the Woods because I really didn't find the previews or the stunt casting appropriate. For me, it's a work that requires an audience to use their imagination to a great extent, and movies tend to give form to those things that are much better left conjured up in your own mind. That's why my son and I absolutely loved The MUNY's current presentation of the show. Let's face it, a woodland setting created utilizing green screen technology and a few key set pieces is nowhere near as effective at conveying the atmosphere desired, especially when you already have those actual elements growing freely at the back of this marvelous outdoor stage. Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book) crafted a brilliant mash-up of several fairy tales and fables that is smart, funny, and, ultimately, touching. When I asked my boy what he thought of the show at the end of the night he neatly summed it up: "I thought it was awesome!" I agree wholeheartedly. Superbly cast and conceived, this is a production that's simply tailor made for The MUNY. Go see it, and take your kids with you! It may have a few moments that are a bit gruesome or adult in content, but they'll have a wonderful time, and so will you!
The plot interweaves characters from a variety of stories, including: "Little Red Riding Hood", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Cinderella", "Rapunzel", with an original tale that centers around the efforts of a baker and his wife to break a witch's curse which has left than unable to conceive a child. And, as the first act comes to a close it appears as though things have been neatly tied up with a happy conclusion for all. But that's not the case at all, because we all know that the things we wish for in life are not always what is best for us. The message is hammered home with a subversive second act that effectively pulls the rug out from under the various conclusions that occur. That gives it a depth that it might otherwise not have had, and I'm a person that really appreciates that kind of twist.
Rob McClure and Erin Dilly are a great pair as the baker and his wife, and you really root for them to follow through on the witch's instructions in order to reverse the curse. Heather Headley is exceptional as the Witch, lending a powerful voice and plenty of attitude to the role. Sara Kapner nearly steals the show with her sassy performance as Little Red Riding Hood, and Jason Gotay is delightfully dim as Jack, with local favorite Zoe Vonder Haar drawing numerous laughs as his perpetually frustrated mother. Ryan Silverman (Rapunzel's Prince) and Andrew Samonsky (Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf) are amusing as the egotistic Princes, and share a terrific moment with their renditions of "Agony."
Ken Page is a perfect choice as the narrator, with his rich voice giving his expositions resonance. Elena Shaddow is a lovely Cinderella, and Jennifer Diamond (Florinda) and April Strelinger (Lucinda) are properly snotty and mean-spirited as her stepsisters. Ellen Harvey also does a nice job as her stepmother. Anna Blair does fine work in three distinctly different roles: Cinderella's ghostly mother, Red's Grandmother, and the Giant's ticked off wife. Michael McCormick pulls double duty as Cinderella's disinterested stepfather, as well as the Mysterious Man who continually pops up to aid the Baker and his wife on their quest. Gary Glasgow adds additional humor to this show with his portrayal of the steward, and Samantha Massell displays an ethereal vocal quality as Rapunzel that echoes in the cool night air. Lest we forget, Maggie Lakis gives life to Milky White, Jack's pet cow who is traded for some magic beans.
Gary Griffin's direction is outstanding, and you really get the sense that he has a genuine feel for this show and how it should be presented, making particularly good use of the revolving section of the stage. He's aided by the minimal choreography of Chris Bailey, the splendid scenic design of Michael Schweikardt, Rob Denton's atmospheric lighting, Andrea Lauer's costumes, and John Metzner's wig designs. Brad Haak's musical direction is spectacular, giving Sondheim's infectiously catchy themes, motifs, and clever tongue twisting lyrics, their just due.
The MUNY's magnificent production of Into the Woods captures the spirit and soul that Sondheim and Lapine intended, and you'll leave with the central theme stuck thoroughly in your head. And, that's actually a good thing. Don't miss this terrific presentation, which continues through July 27, 2015.
Photo Credit: Phillip Hamer