Review: INTO THE WOODS at The New Jewish Theatre is an Immersive Enchanted Fairytale

The New Jewish Theatre’s production of INTO THE WOODS is absolutely ravishing.

By: Dec. 02, 2023

Cinderella sings “I wish” as the opening lyric in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s INTO THE WOODS. I wish that every performance of the current production of INTO THE WOODS at The New Jewish Theatre could be seen by a sold-out house, and that they’d be forced to extend the run due to audience demand. It is just that good. The New Jewish theatre has staged an immersive and enchanted fairytale production in the Wool Studio Theatre on the campus of the Jewish Community Center.

Credit goes to the entire production team for their magnificent and magical stagecraft. Director Robert Quinlan’s vision to stage this production in the round and have his actor’s directly on top of the audience, looking them in the eye, and telling their stories creates an intimate theatrical experience like no other. His collaboration with his actors and technical team splendidly brings to life the fairytale characters of The Brothers Grimm.

C. Otis Sweezey’s set design creates a fascinating fantasyland. His collaboration with Quinlan envelops the audience into the story the moment they walk into the theater. A large tree draped in red fabric stretches across the back wall of the theatre framing an eerily lit full moon. Amanda Werre’s sound design is already in full swing as the audience is greeted by the sounds of being lost in a dense forest. Sweezey’s rolling set pieces, including three large leafless trees, engulfs the audience to further add to the visceral experience.

Werre’s sound design is a captivating work of art. Not a word of the dialogue and lyrics is lost. Her effects, from the subtle sounds of singing birds and chirping crickets to the thuds of falling and stomping giants, are precise perfection. When the giants fall to the ground and stomp through the fairytale land you feel the theatre quake. Werre’s enhancement of Nisi Sturgis booming voice as The Giant provoked fear for both the cast and the audience. Sturgis’ voiceover work created a palpable presence of the unseen giant. The deliberate sound effects were masterfully matched by Jayson M. Lawshee’s fantastic lighting design. Lawshee’s design enhances the storytelling with both with subtle nuance and bold vigor. His thoughtful construction not only lit the actors, but he bathed props and set pieces to paint the stage in a radiant glow.

Quinlan assembled an ensemble of actors who perfectly complimented one another for a fantastical story telling experience. Each actor, playing multiple roles, delivered skillful, beautiful, and balanced performances to tell the tale as a cohesive company. Larry D. Pry impressively served triple duty playing the Narrator while conducting as Music Director and playing the piano in the orchestra. Pry’s work was astounding. Matt Billings charmed the audience, not only as Cinderella’s prince, but as the puppeteer for Jack’s cow Milky White. His attention to detail brought an inanimate set piece to life. The towering Phil Leveling filled three roles. His work as the Wolf and Cinderella’s imposing stepmother was terrific, but it was the less showy role as the Mysterious Man that gave the show heart. His work with Kevin O’Brien on “No More” was stunning. Leveling, O’Brien as The Baker, and Molly Wennstrom as The Baker’s Wife are the emotional centerpiece of the story. O’Brien and Wennstrom deliver exquisite performances as a barren couple experiencing the angst of being unable to conceive. The stress in their marriage is perceptible and their heartache is substantially felt.

The score is beautifully sung by the entire company. Kristen Joy Lintvedt’s (Cinderella) delivers an ethereal vocal on “No One is Alone.” The audience nearly melted as she performed one of Sondheim’s most beautiful and melodic compositions. It was the best in a well-sung show. Kevin Corpuz’s (Rapunzel’s Prince) perfect phrasing, diction, and tone on Agony was splendid. He has a hypnotic tenor. Sarah Wilkinson’s (Rapunzel) bright soprano was absolutely stunning. The majority of Rapunzel’s solo work is singing scales to announce Rapunzel’s presence and, while the character doesn’t have many solos with lyrics in the show, her voice is magnificently memorable. The entire company’s work, especially on “Ever After” and “Finale, Children will Listen,” led by the fantastic Sarah Gene Dowling,  was spectacular.

The New Jewish Theatre’s production of INTO THE WOODS is absolutely ravishing. It is among one of the most immersive theatrical productions I’ve experienced and is reminiscent of the dazzling Tony Award Winning revival of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND” that was performed in-the-round in New York’s Circle In The Square Theatre. Every element is first rate. It is a directorial masterpiece. The intimate space is used  impeccably. The production work by the technical theatre team is perfection in stagecraft and the acting and singing is flawless.

Click the link below to purchase tickets to this extraordinary production. INTO THE WOODS will run at The New Jewish Theatre through December 17th.