“Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim at the Baldwin Theatre, Royal Oak MI
Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos by Lance Luce
A Pleasant but Uneven Trip “Into the Woods” by Stagecrafters
Armed with the warning “Be careful what you wish for!”, characters from several fondly remembered fairy tales go in search of their hopes and dreams. Remember Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk? They join in on a kind of supernatural scavenger hunt to lift a curse and live happily ever after. Or do they…?
The cleverly original concept of “Into the Woods” by James Lapine weaves familiar storylines into a fairy tale tapestry for grownups. The brilliant musical book and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim crackle with sharp wit, irony and just a touch of snarkyness. It was a huge hit when it opened on Broadway in November 1987 and garnered several Tony Awards, including for Best Score and Best Book.
A Narrator helps in the storytelling, connecting various elements, like a rather cynical museum curator. As do most fairy tales, “Into the Woods” addresses themes pitting greed and ruthlessness against love, fidelity and bravery. But unlike those fairy tales, we see that the nice people are maybe not so nice, and the wicked people, not so wicked.
There’s also plenty of symbolism in those Woods. In his book “Look, I Made a Hat” where he explains the process behind his lyrics, Sondheim says: “And, ah, the woods. The all-purpose symbol of the unconscious, the womb, the past, the dark place where we face our trials and emerge wiser or destroyed…”
Sondheim’s difficult and at times discordant score, with its exquisitely complex lyrics utilizing syncopated speech, is challenging even for the most experienced musical theatre performers. Randi Hamilton as the Witch is arguably the best in the show. She’s got the timing, comedic and musical chops, turning in an impressive performance.
There are other bright spots as well: Erin Johnson as the Baker’s Wife, Celeste Blanch in multiple roles (Cinderella’s Mother, Granny, Snow White and the voice of the Giantess), Zachary Coates playing the equally ravenous roles of the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince, and John Nowaczyk as that very essential Narrator.
The excellent 15-piece orchestra is led by conductor Matt Horn. Colorful costume design by Dolly Scheibelhut brightens the stage. Direction and choreography by John Luther capably moves the story through its many-varied paces.
Some good vocal talent and elements of humor make “Woods” entertaining to watch. But the first act seems a bit long, even for a show with a two-and-a-half-hour run time. And the production often lacks the right tempo and interpretation, so it’s hard to understand the lyrics at times. And Sondheim’s lyrics are the whole point.
When: Now through February 11, 2018
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $21 to $26.50
Where: Baldwin Theatre, Main Stage
415 S. Lafayette
Royal Oak, MI 48067