BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Ford's Theatre

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BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Ford's TheatrePeter Flynn tackles Sondheim's darkly imagined INTO THE WOODS at Ford's Theatre and the result is sensational. Flynn leads an exceptional cast and, with support from Michael Bobbitt's choreography, Milagros Ponce León's set design, and Wade Laboissonniere's costume design, has a hit on his hands.

Though intricate in message and score, INTO THE WOODS is sturdy source material and allows directors and designers leeway to shape the particular world these fairy tale characters inhabit. There have been many variations on a theme in INTO THE WOODS remounts these last few years, perhaps most notably Fiasco Theatre's bare-bones reworking, but Flynn's WOODS feels familiar and fresh all at once; much like the source material.

If you're an INTO THE WOODS novice play close attention to WOODS' rapid fire twists and turns. The plot is a series of interconnected quests as a baker and his wife set out to reverse a witch's curse in order to conceive a child. You'll recognize familiar faces from your favorite fairy tales-- Little Red Riding Hood (Jade Jones), Cinderella (Erin Driscoll), Jack and his beanstalk (Samy Nour Younes), and a pair of charming princes (Christopher Mueller and Hasani Allen)-- but unlike the tidy stories you remember, these characters grapple with complex issues of morality and psychology halfway through an ever-darkening wood. By giving us something to latch onto, familiar stories from our youth, Sondheim is able to explore the latent dark side of these fairy tales: what happens when your heart's desire doesn't make you happy at all?

I couldn't wish for a cast better equipped to breathe new life into these characters. Though we're introduced to the Baker's Wife through her affiliation with her husband ("Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom...there lived a childless baker and his wife") Awa Sal Secka manages to steal the show. She brings a richness to the Baker's Wife in every sense. Her lilting, resonant voice captures from the word go. The depth and complexity she brings to her relationship with her husband, and later, Little Red, reminds us that, though at times hilarious, INTO THE WOODS has humanity at its core. And Secka acts down to her finger tips. During the pivotal "Moments in the Woods" we watch as she becomes briefly captivated by the shining silver ring on her finger. As she softly sings "Just remembering you've had an "and" when you're back to "or" makes the "or mean more than it did before" suddenly means more than it did before. I could go on, but I think you should see her performance for yourself.

The cast as an ensemble is a force. Jade Jones plays vivacious Little Red and will steal your heart and scare you silly. Rachel Zampelli is delightful as the Witch, Erin Driscoll paints a convincing portrait of our favorite scullery maid turned princess, and Evan Casey is sweet and sincere as the Baker. Special attention must be paid to Tiziano D'Affuso as Jack's bovine best friend Milky White. At times, you'll be hard pressed to look beyond D'Affuso's expressive face to the scene at hand.

Production value was predictably, but still notably, high. The judicious and strategic use of projections in this production makes you feel like you've walked into your favorite storybook: kudos to Projection Designer Clint Allen. The sound design (David Budries) was clear and crisp: crucial for any Sondheim show. The marriage between set (Milagros Ponce de León) and costumes (Wade Laboissonniere) can only be described as opulent.

Ford's Theatre is a show in itself. From the inescapable spectre of Lincoln on the in-memorium balcony, to the sturdy seats that harken back to a time when humans must have been more compact, to the blissful signs that instruct audience members not to bring food or drink into the auditorium (I can't tell you how many monologues have been spoiled for me by an M&M wrapper), I can't say enough about the experience.

I encourage those of you who never have to go INTO THE WOODS, and any aficionados to go INTO THE WOODS once again. There is always something new to learn.

INTO THE WOODS, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by James Lapine. Directed by Peter Flynn.

2 hours 40 minutes.

$27-$81. Through May 22 at Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. 888-616-0270.

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From This Author Evann Normandin