Stephen Sondheim was arguably one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century bringing the often showy and sometimes shallow world of musical theatre to depths and levels of complexity less-explored by the artform. That being said, Into the Woods is one of my least favorite of his musicals. It's long, it's wordy, and in contrast to its fairy tale façade, the content of the piece can be excessively heady and lack the basic fun one could reasonably expect from a musical adaptation of the Brothers Grimm. I brought my eight year old little girl with me to this production and her review was simple, "I thought there was going to be a wolf and there was no wolf, only a guy in a fur jacket and then they were singing, and singing, and singing…". I think there's something profoundly honest there. So this fairy tale may not have been written for young children, but how does this production fare for a more mature audience?
The cast displays a mixed level of experience with its Broadway veterans making themselves easy to spot. Eric Ankrim's "Baker" is the production's grounding cornerstone and is well complimented by Cayman Ilika with her bright and energetically charged portrayal of the "Baker's Wife." Ankrim is understated, relaxing into his role as a man who is not used to being the center of attention but is reluctantly thrust into a hero role he can only partially fill. It is an honest performance that helps illuminate some to the piece's difficult themes. Mari Nelson offers a solid "Narrator" competently steering the story's direction and setting its high energy level, though her moments as the Baker's Father are markedly less convincing. Joshua Miller's "Jack" is a sympathetic and lost little boy with an endearing quality. Sarah "SG" Garcia has a very clear sense of her "Little Red" that she follows through on from beginning to end and Sarah Russell lends her "Cinderella" a beautifully emotive singing voice.
The production design is another strong point with the lighting and set joining to create a very effective world for these characters to live in. Ben Zamora's lighting design utilizes mobile clusters of suspended tube lights to create a choreographed canvas upon which to project one's suspension of disbelief and imagine the fantastic settings that a more literal set might have spelled out. This lighting has a very dynamic affect and mingles well with the simplicity of Lex Marcos's fluid and function-focused set (which bares a bit of a nod to Boris Aronson's set from Company).
If you've never seen a professional stage production of Into the Woods then this one is likely to be one of the better ones you're bound to come across. For those more familiar with the Sondheim catalog it may offer less new revelations but is still a very respectable representation of this iconic musical. The production does not escape the musical’s inherent flaws but instead wears them well.