Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Into the Woods
Arden Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's review of Flyin' West

The Cast
Photo by Wide Eyed Studios
Stephen Sondheim died in November of 2021 at the age of 91. It is hard to think of another composer as influential and important to modern musical theater as Sondheim. Arden Theater Company's Into the Woods is a perfect tribute to the master himself, who wrote the score for James Lapine's book. Director Terrence Nolan's innovative production eschews big sets, elaborate costumes, and dramatic make-up in favor of clever staging and sincere storytelling. The cast and orchestra deliver faithfully on the richly complex instrumentals, vocals, and lyrics that make Into the Woods such a uniquely spectacular musical theater experience.

The ridiculous number of amazing songs in Into the Woods effectively illustrate the extent of Sondheim's dazzling musical genius. "It Takes Two," "No One Is Alone," "Giants in The Sky," "Agony" and "Children Will Listen" are just the highlights. But there is also real genius in Nolan's sophisticated and clever production. Casting two actors to play the roles of Cinderella's two Stepsisters and the two Princes is a master stroke. Garrick Vaughan and Vanessa Sterling pull the whole thing off with abundant humor and some meaningful insight. Ryan Touhey's orchestrations deserve some credit for the pair's success and for the success of the production as a whole. Touhey conducts the top-notch orchestra on a raised platform above the stage. It is another great touch. Even Jack's cow, Milky White, is risible, thanks to an undeniably bovine performance by Anna Faye Lieberman.

The cast is filled with some of Philadelphia's most talented musical theater singers. Ben Dibble (Baker), Katherine Fried (Baker's Wife), Kim Carson (Witch), Ellis Gage (Jack), and Anna DeBlasio (opening night Cinderella) deliver epic vocals. Fried and Dibble are also an achingly relatable married couple and their authentic chemistry heightens the intensity of the story that swirls around them. Carson gives a dark and multifaceted performance as the witch, but she doesn't really come off as old or ugly. Gage is easily the most charming Jack I have seen, and his rendition of "Giants in the Sky" is moving and memorable. On opening night, understudy Anna DeBlasio stepped in as Cinderella with a perfect balance of grit and charisma. I am glad I got to see her in the role.

Clean and simple, but still undeniably magical, James Kronzer's scenic design is a thing of beauty. Lighting design by Jorge Arroyo helps clearly delineate location changes and creates an increasingly intense mood. The modern costume designs by Levonne Lindsay include some clever touches. The entire creative design is deceptively simple. It doesn't look like there is much going on, but suddenly there is a forest, or a path, or a person who was not there before.

For so many of us who feel a deeply personal connection to Stephen Sondheim's music, his death continues to be a devastating loss. Seeing this outstanding production of Into the Woods is a wonderful balm for that sadness. I feel confident that Sondheim himself would happily approve of what Nolan has done with one of his greatest works.

Into the Woods runs through July 10, 2022, on the Arden Theatre Company's F. Otto Haas Stage, 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please call 215-922-1122 or visit

Kim Carson: Witch
Ben Dibble: Baker
Katherine Fried: Baker's Wife
Ellis Gage: Jack
Scott Greer: Narrator/Mysterious Man/Cinderella's Father
Jessy Gruver: Cinderella's Stepmother
Anna Faye Lieberman: Cinderella's Mother/Rapunzel
Alia Munsch: Cinderella (performed on opening night by understudy Anna DeBlasio)
Mary Elizabeth Scallen: Jack's Mother
Grace Ellis Solomon: Little Red Ridinghood
Vanessa Sterling: Florinda/Rapunzel's Prince/Harp
Brenson Thomas: Steward/Granny
Garrick Vaughan: Lucinda/Cinderella Prince/Wolf

Terrence J. Nolen: Director
Melanie Cotton: Assistant Director
James Kronzer: Scenic Design
Levonne Lindsay: Costume Design
Jorge Arroyo: Lighting Design
Elizabeth Atkinson: Sound Design
Ryan Touhey: Music Director/Conductor/Orchestrations
Gina Giachero: Assistant Music Director
Billy Bustamante: Choreographer
Alec E. Ferrell: Stage Manager
Kate Nelson: Assistant Stage Manager