Into the Woods
Also see Susan's review of King Lear
Director Eric Schaeffer, who is also the artistic director and co-founder of Signature, is returning to a work he originally staged in the former space in 1994. This time he has much greater physical resources, such as a higher ceiling that allows set designer Robert Perdziola to create an overhanging curtain of greenery, and a large enough black-box performing area that 16 musicians can perch on a high platform behind Rapunzel's tower. Even better is his cast, which includes many of Washington's best singing actors.
Through Sondheim's songs and James Lapine's book, Into the Woods weaves together several fairy-tale plots in a way at first farcical, then deadly serious. At the center of the show are a Baker (Daniel Cooney) and his Wife (April Harr Blandin), who wish to have a child. The Witch who lives next door (Eleasha Gamble) offers to make their wish come true, if they bring her four things: the red cape worn by Little Red Riding Hood (Lauren Williams); the slipper of Cinderella (Stephanie Waters), which for plot reasons is golden rather than glass; the cow that Jack (Stephen Gregory Smith) trades for magic beans; and some of Rapunzel's (Erin Driscoll) hair.
The Baker and Wife serve as the anchors to the production, and Cooney and especially Blandin are up to the challenge: she conveys a kaleidoscope of emotions from pragmatism, exasperation and despair to unexpected joy and resolution. Gamble has the showiest role, and she inhabits it fully. Waters is a forthright and lovely Cinderella; Smith is delightful as Jack, a little dim but determined; and Williams plays Little Red Riding Hood with an impish twinkle in her eye.
Schaeffer and choreographer Karma Camp seem a bit intoxicated by all the space they have to work with. Cinderella's Prince (James Moye) and Rapunzel's Prince (Sean MacLaughlin) never walk; they bound, they leap, then they posture when they land. Moye also plays the wolf who pursues Little Red Riding Hood in a hilariously sexualized way. ("Carnality" has two meanings, after all.)
Perdziola also designed the costumes, and Chris Lee designed the lighting, which falls in shafts through the hovering haze. Jon Aitchison deserves special mention for his wig designs, specifically the gravity-defying heaps of hair worn by Cinderella's stepmother (the unflappable Channez McQuay) and stepsisters (Florrie Bagel and Priscilla Cuellar).