Ever wondered what would happen if a bunch of self-important fairy tale characters got mixed up in the same story together? In Stephen Sondheim’s musical INTO THE WOODS, with the book by James Lapine, that’s exactly what happens. And it’s woven together in a most amusing and tuneful way. The Barley Sheaf Players’ production is fun and lively, and the performers make the most of Sondheim’s occasionally meandering tunes. The cozy theater is the perfect place to spend an evening.
There isn’t a bad seat in the house and the small orchestra is nestled behind the stage. The actors are skilled at managing difficult entrances with no conductor in front of them. The ensembles,-especially the two finales,-are intricate both rhythmically and melodically, yet the singers pull them both off with panache. The set (designed by Wayne Grinwis, with scenic design by Fran Donato) includes an adorable giant storybook with turning pages. Each little alcove in the theater has a tree growing out of it. Complete with cricket sounds and other outdoor noises, the audience is transported into the woods.
The story revolves around the Baker and his wife, who are trying to undo a spell that renders them childless. Following the Witch’s directions, they travel through the woods, looking for various illusive items such as a white cow and a red cape. As the Witch, Denise Webb commands the stage with her strong, yet supple voice.
Allison Greet as Little Red Ridinghood sets the tone for the musical. She is not the timid character we expect. When the assertive and perpetually hungry girl goes to meet her grandmother, she encounters the Wolf, played by Russ White. Later White also plays a vain Cinderella’s Prince, and stands out with his graceful moves, good singing, and excellent comic timing.
Some of the musical numbers, like Agony, sung by Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince, are well-crafted. No One is Alone is a beautiful ballad, and a favorite for many cabaret singers. It’s hard not to wonder if Sondheim borrowed a few notes of Anthony Newly’s The Candy Man for this touching melody.
There seem to be several messages in the show. Perhaps the most striking theme: Children listen to us and learn from us. Each of the vignettes woven into the plot touches on family relationships. Of course, fairy tales always include a moral, so it’s fitting that INTO THE WOODS makes us ponder our own lives.
INTO THE WOODS
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Wayne Grinwis
March 11 – April 2, 2011
Barley Sheaf Players
810 N Whitford Rd