Into the Woods

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

Oops. Wrong text.

Even so, these woods ARE lovely. The shadows are getting long and sweet because night is coming on a little earlier each day. The bird that was nesting and fretful atop the parapet in As You Like It, the previous show at the Delacorte, is nowhere to be seen these days. I am glad because what was happening on the stage in the first act is ever so enjoyable. I would have been hard pressed to divide my attention this time around.

Back to the story. Into The Woods is a fairy tale operetta-smorgasbord. All You Can Eat meets Once Upon A Time. Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Stiles) traipses through the woodland that is not only home to Rapunzel (Tess Soltau), Jack (Gideon Glick) and his cow, the childless Baker (Dennis O'Hare) and wife (Amy Adams), but is also part of the kingdom ruled by Prince Charming (Ivan Hernandez) who will soon be smitten by Cinderella (Jessie Mueller), and that happens to be adjunct to the far-far-away locations of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The whole she-bang is under the watchful eye of the Witch (Donna Murphy) who has seen better days and whose desire to see them again will be her leverage tool. And then there is that Mysterious Man (Chip Zien) who swans about urging people to trust themselves and all will be well.

The reason we know all of this is because our Narrator (Jack Broderick and Noah Radcliffe alternating) a boy of about 10, has run away from home after an argument with his father. Into the Woods he runs with his imagination as escort and honor guard. The characters he conjures depend as much on him as he does on them. Fairy Tales do not exist without the one who calls them into being.

The first act is a nifty piece of patchwork quilting libretto-wise. The Baker and his wife want a baby. Jack wants enough money to prevent the sale of his best friend, his white cow. Red Riding Hood wants to get to Granny's in one piece with a few pastries in tact. Rapunzel would just once like to let down her hair for a real m-a-n. And Cinderella - well, you know. The Witch strikes a deal with the Baker(s), that if they go on a certain scavenger hunt and steal one thing from each of the aforementioned characters: a white cow, a red cloak, hair the color of corn silk and a gold shoe, she will lift the curse from the Baker and his wife, and a child will be theirs.

They do, she does (and also reverts back to her beauty self), and everyone is pronounced happily ever after. Our narrator goes to sleep under the stars and we all go off to intermission where the excellent Public Theatre staff reminds us all that there is a second act, because is seems like some patrons have been overlooking this factoid. Easy to understand because the first act is a complete play.

How to top that? Not easily. As a matter of fact the second act is mostly devoted to unraveling the knots that we didn't see being sewn in the first act. The Bakers house is too small. The Giant died falling from the Beanstalk that Jack cut down, and Mrs. Giant is seriously ticked off. Granny is dead and Red Riding Hood is sad. Rapunzel's hair was cut off, and her one-night-stand has left her a single mother of two. Cinderella discovers that Prince Charming is a womanizer and opts for a separation. The Mysterious Man (the Baker's Father?) dies and comes back for a few positive haunts. The Witch is as lovely as the woods, but she has lost her powers, which is a bad deal all around and makes her crabbier than she was before. Even the narrator isn't safe when the search is on for a human sacrifice to appease the Giantess.

Higgledy-piggledy is the name of the game in the second act. And these performers pull it off. But just barely!

Oh these performers! What extraordinary creatures they are - theatrical Olympians of the very best order. Dennis O'Hare has most of the story laid upon his shoulders, and although he does not possess the vocal chops of some of the rest of the cast, his ability to deliver a character is beguiling as well as solid. Amy Adams (what IS up with that horrible wig?) as his wife is a delicious surprise all around. Donna Murphy is beautiful to see and hear, but she is also slightly removed, like she had her mind on something else. Jessie Mueller (who was stunning on this season's On A Clear Day) is perfect as a Cinderella who thinks and sings outside the box. And Sarah Stiles as Red Riding Hood has you at "Hello." The rest of the cast is glorious and creates an ensemble that works on every level.

But for me the second act showed signs of wear. It is s difficult feat to pull off. Sondheim is a taskmaster, and the crumbs he drops on the path of this second act are not easy to follow - for the cast or for us. The last hour felt as though everyone were scrambling to keep up. Whatever direction they took in the first act seems to have deserted them for the second. In any case, it was a universal problem that speaks of a directorial oops. The steam went out of the engine and my interest with it.

Still, that is a modicum inconvenience when stacked up against a night at the Delacorte with the birds and the critters, an excellent first act, and some seriously high quality actors.

"Very little feels natural in this exhaustingly busy production."
Ben Brantley for New York Times

"Running three hours, "Into the Woods" is a bit of a haul. But endurance brings a sweet payoff."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Insists so much on busy cartoonishness that it lacks emotional resonance."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"The most moving account of the musical I've seen, yet just as charming and funny as ever. It makes for an enchanting night in Central Park."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

"Ultimately, though, 'Into the Woods' captures us - even throughout this lengthy, three-hour production — because of its haunting music and wise and masterful lyrics/"
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"Enjoyable outdoors staging."
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

"This version doesn't entirely smooth out the rough edges of this darkly beguiling work. But its numerous imaginative touches, as well as a first-rate cast headed by Amy Adams ..., Donna Murphy and Denis O'Hare ... provide ample compensations."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

"This "Into the Woods" serves as a good, if overlong, midsummer's eve diversion in Central Park."
Steven Suskin for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

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