Theatre in the Grove's 'Into the Woods' will charm its audience
Dan Harry did not achieve his goal for me. He wanted the audience to be so riveted that they would lean forward in their seats during 'Into the Woods' so the back of their seats would become cold. Instead, I was blasted back by the shear power and force of the musical's story, singing and acting. Harry has a winner on his hands.
There are not many playwrights/composers who think to take conventional fairy tales to the next 'what if' level as a reflection of all that is good and bad with society. But Sondheim and colleague James Lapine did just that, and you're left pondering your own behaviors and wonder if you will do 'what it takes' to get what you want - even if it means dire consequences for yourself and others.
Sondheim offered an insightful window into the motives of others as choreographing this very complex maze of wants and needs of these familiar fairy tale characters amidst a witch's curse is thought-provoking and provocative. 'It's not the fact that you lie, it's the size of the lie that counts,' argued the Baker's Wife, in rationalizing her behavior during a climatic moment. So, do the means truly justify the ends? This question is contemplated many times throughout the story and asked in song.
Sondheim done wrong is painful; Sondheim done right is joyful, and it has often been rumored that singing and playing his lyrics and music is hard; in fact, Harry even lamented its ordeal during our recent interview. But this cast and orchestra met that challenge head on and exceeded all expectations. Their fluidity of movement and passionate feelings transformed a mere play into a persuasive and eloquent treatise on the human condition. I applaud Musical Director Jacob Mott's deft handling of his vocal ensemble. This is the fourth musical production I have seen with Mott at the musical helm, and I am rapidly becoming impressed with his growing confidence and theatrical maturity.
'Once upon a time,' intoned the Narrator (Ron Hansen), and thus began the classic of all fairy tale openings. And, boom, you're in the play. There's no wearisome overture to prolong the action; instead, the 'Into the Woods' prologue greeted you immediately with the issues faced by Cinderella, Jack (of the beanstalk fame), and the Baker and his wife. You're drawn into their dramas, wishing you could solve their dilemmas but rather you are forced to be a benevolent spectator as their stories intertwine and paths collide to a happy resolution in Act One. But their decisions caught up with the denizens of fairy tale land during Act Two, and in 'Your Fault,' finger wagging nearly poked out the eyes of the accusers and accused - metaphorically speaking.
As this is truly an ensemble piece with no one actor/singer taking center stage, I'll mention just a few of the magical musical moments, but please do not take these few examples as a slight to the other performances; I just do not have the space to praise everyone individually. In 'Agony,' sung by Jacob Mott and Corey Christiansen, as Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince, respectively, they decried their lot about loving almost unattainable women. Their harmonization blended beautifully like soft cream cheese and whipping cream. Abbe Groh as Rapunzel did not have a large speaking part, but her operatic vocalizing as a woman stuck in a tower and bored to tears was praiseworthy. Jodi Coffman's Witch's rapping about beans and various other vegetables during the prologue was surprisingly fun.
I appreciated the successful integration of the set into the overall theme of anything can happen 'in the woods.' The costuming by Kelcey Weaver and her team was especially effective.
There were a few technical glitches, and I know these will be corrected by the next performance.
For an entertaining evening out, I would highly recommend you seeing 'Into the Woods.' You will be glad you did.