Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Into the Woods
Into the Woods, given a Broadway caliber production on Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson MainStage through July 13th, is never too sweet. It is inclusive of both levity and darkness while spreading musical charm throughout the theater. It was more than three decades ago that Stephen Sondheim provided music and lyrics to accompany James Lapine's book. Benefitting from Joe Calarco's direction and Darren R. Cohen's musical leadership, this production should work for anyone from ages 10 through 100. The nifty orchestrations are supplied by Jonathan Tunick. Jen Caprio's wardrobe choices are lively and lovely. Fairy tales intersect throughout this musical of many moods and dispositions, ranging from optimism through a far more sobering perspective.
Scenic designer Brian Prather has created a fantasy forest amid mostly orange hues above the stage. What appear to be sculpted wooden pieces extend downward from the ceiling, and a few geometric shapes are on the floor. The decision not to replicate reality is wise. Cinderella (Amanda Robles) is cleaning things on one end of the performance space. Her bizarre stepsisters Florida (Megan Orticelli) and Lucinda (Zoe Aarts) have pink hair (wig, hair and makeup designs are by J. Jared Janas). Jack (Clay Singer), situated elsewhere on the stage, attempts to milk his cow and, played here by a large, gangly puppet. The Baker (Jonathan Raviv) and the Baker's Wife (Mara Davi) are preparing bread.
The Narrator (Thom Sesma) lets all of us know that wishes are pivotal in life. Chasing them propels Into the Woods forward. The Baker and his Wife really hope they can somehow have a child. Jack just wants to get some milk from his cow while his Mother (Leslie Becker) wants him to utilize a bit of common sense. Cinderella strives to get to the King's festival. Her Stepmother (Sarah Dacey Charles) scorns her, and Cinderella's stepsisters feel it's a joke to think that Cinderella will get there.
Then there's Little Red Riding Hood (Dorcas Leung). Director Calarco transforms her into something of a wise-ass punk, which is an odd and funny invention. She happens to be on her way to visit her sick grandmother. Jack's cow cannot produce milk, and his Mother insists that he sell it, while Cinderella weeps when her group heads for the ball and leaves her behind.
All of that (and more) and we are somewhere in the midst of the first portion of this smashing musical. As the initial act concludes, wishes are granted, but consequences for actions will later follow. These are quests. Are they worth it?
Thematically, Into the Woods is about trust, friendship, fidelity and, for certain, love. Lapine and Sondheim delve into scruples and morals as characters drive ahead to fulfill wishes. During the early going, many are seekers but, later on, it becomes obvious that many meandering roads (plot lines) are problematic: One does not always receive what he/she desires.
The story is both lovely and a bit dizzying. There's great variety to musical numbers. For example, "Prologue: Into the Woods" lights up the theater with energy. When actor Clay Singer performs "I Guess This Is Goodbye" and "Giants in the Sky," he does so in a plaintive mode. "Agony" is a first half highlight duet featuring Cinderella's Prince (Toniazzo-Naughton) and Rapunzel's Prince (Pepe Nufrio). Its lyrics allow the princes the opportunity to examine situations, difficulties and quandaries. Everyone in the cast comes together for an up-tempo "Ever After." Many first act numbers have pulse and retain a motif of possibility.
In the second act, "Agony" is reprised. After that moment, music and lyrics tend to be quieter, touching and, saddening. After four actors combine on the plaintive and instructive "No One is Alone," the entire company coalesces for "Children Will Listen." The musical, in the end, is philosophical.
The vocal numbers are difficult to sing at times because melodic lines are not fully predictable; sometimes expected resolution does not occur. This disciplined cast is eager, sensitive and skilled. Calarco pushes pace as he must, for this is a long musical. Mara Davi, as The Baker's Wife, is especially adept and absorbing throughout. A quick nod, here, for casting Mykal Kilgore as The Witch. The actor screeches early on and this leaves little room during the first act to vary the character. Later, The Witch is not so boisterous and that is (respectfully) appreciated.
This show, one which challenges actors and directors alike, fully glows as Barrington Stage, once again, bequeaths a musical which fuses excitement with insight. Those who originated Into the Woods over 30 years ago must be celebrated. Its vivacity endures.
Into the Woods, through July 13, 2019, at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St, Pittsfield MA. For tickets, call 413-236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.