Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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NY1 Theater Review: "Into The Woods"

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Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's "Into the Woods" is back on the New York boards, as the revival is currently taking up shop at The Public Theater's outdoor space in Central Park. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.

Despite its fairy-tale subject matter, I really don't think "Into The Woods" is for kids. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's beautifully complex musical deconstructs those classics from childhood and turns them into teachable moments for grownups.

First produced 25 years ago, it's returned to Broadway in a terrific if uneven revival courtesy of the British Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.

Sondheim and Lapine's ambitious concept weaves familiar characters — Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack from the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, the Witch and others — along with a couple of new ones, a baker and his wife, into a seamless new tale in which things don't end so happily at all.

Director Timothy Sheader and co-director Liam Steel made some key changes that put a refreshing spin on the work. A narrator character, originally an adult, is now played by a child who's presumably run away after a fight at home. In the woods, he recreates the storybook tales with a fanciful flair.

By Act II, it all turns much darker and deep. There are dire consequences to everyone's actions. Real life intrudes and people die. With the narrator as a child, Sondheim's profound song "Children Will Listen" brings the dramatic arc to a moving conclusion.

The excellent Donna Murphy in the role of the Witch sings with an almost threatening urgency that exhorts us to listen.

The revival also features a more visually contemporary style and it makes the show seem more relevant.

Sarah Stiles, looking more like "Little Red Crash Helmet," is especially engaging. But the entire ensemble, including Jessie Mueller's empowered Cinderella, Chip Zien's Mysterious Man, Denis O'Hare's sardonic Baker and Amy Adams, his pragmatic wife, deliver us through the woods with enchanting finesse.

Vocally, I've heard better, but the emphasis in this revival is clearly on the storytelling. And more than ever before, it seems to target the kid within us adults.

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