On Sunday night, a daring new interpretation of “Into the Woods” made its debut on Broadway for the first time. Because it does not in any way represent a revolutionary step.
Since Stephen Sondheim‘s death, New Yorkers have become accustomed to seeing the late composer’s work adapted for the big screen by independent filmmakers.
Sondheim performances, whether it’s John Doyle’s 2005 production of “Sweeney Todd” with actor-musicians on a bare stage or Marianne Elliott’s superb gender-swapped “Company” last season, need a gimmick. In Central Park’s “Into the Woods” revival 10 years ago, the narrator figure was replaced by a young child who was lost in the woods. Sure!
“Into The Woods” is not one of them. Simply enough, what we’re seeing is the 1986 musical. As a well-received spring concert at City Center, the new revival was moved to the St. James Theatre in its almost same form, save for a few additional cast members and a trip through the woods and across 7th Avenue.
A real orchestra is on stage, while David Rockwell’s set consists of just a few birch tree trunks and some black steps. There is no “What was the director doing with all those lasers?” feeling when you leave the theatre.
Instead, the focus here is on a wonderful cast, crystal clear staging of the fairy tale musical that weaves together the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel into a lesson about the fact that maturity doesn’t end happily.
When Sara Bareilles nailed a famously difficult song, like “Moments in the Woods,” in which the Baker’s Wife tries to rationalize some taboo forest frolicking, it will stay in your mind for a long time. Although she appears to fly by the seat of her pants, the actor is incredibly genuine and sincere in her performance.
Her Park Slope Bakery Wife interpretation is the most relatable I’ve ever seen.
While her spouse, a deeply affected Brian D’Arcy James, movingly wails “No More,” he is addressing the memory of his late father. The song was written by Brian. And Phillipa Soo, as a Cinderella torn by internal turmoil, brings the house down with her rendition of the heartbreaking ballad “No One Is Alone.”
Cole Thompson, who plays Jack, and Julia Lester, who portrays the vivacious spitfire Little Red, both have outstanding debuts on Broadway in this production.
Thompson is as kind and naive as the boy who climbed the beanstalk, and he elevates our spirits with his spine-tingling solo performance of “Giants in the Sky.” And in Lester, we are treated to the emergence of a significant new comedic talent. She is so hilarious that even the jokes that everyone knows feel like they were just told.
As the Big Bad Wolf and alongside Josh Henry as the dummy princes, Gavin Creel is also able to elicit guffaws from the audience.
And, of all things, Milky White the cow agrees with you. The performance makes use of a puppet that is capable of a great deal of expression, and this puppet transforms our bovine friend into a cute Golden Retriever. On the evening that I was there, the understudy, Cameron Johnson, played the role, and he received just as much acclaim as any of the singing parts did.
The most effective version of Patina Miller’s Witch is the one in which the character is a jaded realist. This is similar to the approach that she took on the Leading Player in “Pippin,” which was reminiscent of the Emcee in “Cabaret.”
When she moans and groans while singing to her adopted daughter Rapunzel or when she croons the well-known educational song “Children Will Listen,” she has less of an effect. Despite this, the actress possesses a powerful singing voice.
Surprisingly, “Into the Woods” is becoming Sondheim’s best-remembered show, surpassing “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” and “Company,” which are all considered to be superior productions. Act 2 has always been a heavy-handed maze of fast tragedies that don’t quite land, but nobody cares anymore since, by this point in the story, nobody cares.
The show has ingrained itself into the thoughts and hearts of a generation of theatergoers as a result of the taped production that took place in 1987 and the regular stagings that take place in high schools.