Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director and choreographer Matthew Gardiner had the inspiration to set Sondheim and bookwriter James Lapine's complex tangle of fairy tales in an abandoned children's playroom, designed by Lee Savage as a blank space where a derelict record player, wardrobe, and other pieces of furniture stand aimlessly as lush greenery encroaches on the room's windows and crumbling walls. Then the Narrator (Christopher Bloch) wanders in, finds an old book of fairy tales, and–as he begins to read–the characters and stories come to life.
Into the Woods tells a sprawling story with a large cast, and Gardiner has found richly talented performers to carry the various threads of plot, most of whom have worked at Signature before. At the heart of this production are Jake Loewenthal and Erin Weaver as the Baker and his Wife, whose desire to cancel a curse that has left them childless propels the rest of the action. He is warm and empathetic as he ultimately faces down his doubts; she is clever, practical, and his ideal complement.
Nova Y. Payton, last seen at Signature as Celie in The Color Purple, here embodies the Witch with all the fierceness and single-mindedness necessary to drive the plot. Katie Mariko Murray is a sweetly self-possessed Cinderella, Alex De Bard a hilariously assertive Little Red Ridinghood, David Merino (Angel in last season's Rent) an adorable Jack–his "best friend," Milky-White the cow, is a statue on a wheeled platform–and Sherri L. Edelen glitters in the smaller role of Jack's Mother. Simone Brown has less to do as Rapunzel, while Vincent Kempski and Paul Scanlan are an adorable couple of cute, callow, self-centered princes.
As accomplished as the performers are, the design team has provided a strong foundation for their characterizations. David Israel Reynoso's costume design delights in small details like the absurd decorations on the ballgowns for Cinderella's Stepmother (Maria Rizzo) and stepsisters Florinda (Adelina Mitchell) and Lucinda (Chani Wereley), or Jack's Mother displaying her newfound wealth with a fur stole and a brocade coat over her simple dress. Amanda Zieve has created an atmospheric lighting design that includes washes of deep, unearthly green. Eric Norris' sound design brings the audience (seated on two sides of the stage) into the world of the characters, as does music director Jon Kalbfleisch in conducting his 15 accomplished musicians.
Into the Woods runs through January 29, 2023, at Signature Theatre's MAX Theater, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Narrator/Mysterious Man: Christopher Bloch