Also see John's review of When the Sun Shone Brighter
Sondheim and Lapine handle the second act of the musical in particular with the dark feel that was used by the Brothers Grimm. Though the Americanized versions of many of these fairy tales are sugary sweet, the originals frequently hold a gruesome twist or two. While the villains are usually the recipients of these ugly outcomes, in Into the Woods it is the protagonists who must bear the brunt of seeing their seemingly perfect wishes-come-true. The point is clear. We all must test ourselves by entering into the woods from time to time, for it is in those journeys that we grow. But be careful what you wish for, and don't be surprised if what you end up with at the end of the journey is quite different than what you thought you wanted. In the song "Children Will Listen" Sondheim's brilliant lyrics caution: "Careful the wish you make, wishes are children. Careful the path they take, wishes come true - not free. Careful the spell you cast not just on children. Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see, and turn against you. Careful the tale you tell. That is the spell. Children will listen."
This in-concert version of Into the Woods at the Caldwell features illustrations by Michael McKeever projected against the background of a simple black stage. The actors, clad in black, are aided by just a few costumes pieces such as the Witch's (Laura Hodos) black cape, Little Red Riding Hood's (Nicole Niefeld) cloak, and the Wolf's (Jim Ballard) mask. These few pieces combined with the illustrations are more than enough to establish the right ambiance. Hearing such a musically complex score played without a full orchestra can be disappointing, but musical director Michael O'Dell does a decent job throughout the show accompanying the singers on piano. At the performance I attended, one or two minor struggles with time signature changes mid-song were the only times one might have given thought to the fact it was all done with just a keyboard. Some songs, such as "Ever After", "Your Fault" and "I Know Things Now" benefit from intentionally being taken under-tempo. It allows every word to be understood more clearly, and gives the performers more time to actually act.
While solid performances abound, Laura Hodos nearly steals the show as the Witch. Her timing and her sense of humor shine in this role. Sweet and befuddledwith a toothy grin and a vapid stareJohn Debkowski is the quintessential Jack. Jim Ballard is perfect as the shallow and pompous Cinderella's Prince, though he is less commanding as the Wolf. Margery Lowe's lovely soprano voice and kind demeanor fit the role of Cinderella as flawlessly as the story's golden slipper fits her foot. Nicole Niefeld is surprisingly funny as Little Red Riding Hood. Perhaps because she is a young woman rather than a child or teenager she is able to add the comic insight gained with age. It is nice to see it played this way rather than just as bratty. Nancy Wood (Stepmother/ Mother/ Giant) seem a bit tentative in both her singing and acting on the night attended compared to the polished performances of those around her. Even the toughest ensemble numbers such as the "Prologue" (Act 1 & 2), "First Midnight," "Second Midnight" and the "Finale: Children Will Listen" are cleanly sung in this production. The Caldwell has added an admirable facet to their season offerings with this in-concert version of Into the Woods. Hopefully we will see similar productions in the future.
Into the Woods originally debuted in 1986 in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre. It opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on November 5, 1987, closing on September 3, 1989, after 764 performances. The production won four Drama Desk Awards and three Tony Awards including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). A Broadway revival opened April 30, 2002, at the Broadhurst Theatre, closing on December 29 after a run of 18 previews and 279 regular performances. It received two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk Awards.
Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930. He has been described as "the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre." In addition to Into the Woods, his work includes the musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Anyone Can Whistle, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, Sunday In The Park With George, A Little Night Music, Passion and Assassins. He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. He is the recipient of seven Tony Awards (more than any other composer), two Grammy Awards, the 1990 Academy Award for Best Song for "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Sunday In The Park With George, the Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Achievement in 1993 and a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre in 2008.
This concert version of Into the Woods appeared May 21-24, 2010 at the Caldwell Theatre. The Caldwell Theatre Company is located in the Count De Hoernle Theatre at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, FL. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. Performance times are usually Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. For information and/or tickets you may contact them by phone at 561-241-7432 or online at www.caldwelltheatre.com.
*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.