So now that I am back, I suppose I should get started with a theatrical review as only I know how. Let us start with the grand prize the Into the Woods in Shakespeare in the Park!
In the Beeson household, ITW is a very sacred show. It has been in my life since I was but a child of 6 and saw the 1990 PBS recording with the original Broadway Cast! I only saw Act II at the time, so I even knew then, nothing ended happily ever after.
When I was 14, I finally discovered what the musical actually was. This was in the age of the VHS. A tape that you had to rent from a thing called a library. Today you just need to go into Netflix Insant and there she is Bernadette Peters, with a tight perm giving you FACE! Back in the ’90s I had to rent it from the library and I watched it every day for two weeks, sometimes twice a day. When I had to return it, I rented it again! It opened my door into Sondheim’s world.
So cut to the present. I have never seen a live production if Into the Woods, but I have heard every recording, I have seen every possible footage of the shows. I now own the DVD, but at this point, it’s just redundant. I so looked forward to this revival, and I did it enjoy it, for all it’s faults.
This Shakespeare in the Park import from London. I was thrilled to have it here in the states! There apparently was a twist though. It was the same director, but going to be redesigned. The Public theater didn’t quite advertise that aspect. Back in the day of VHS, we had a thing called analog. The point of that was when you make a copy of a copy, you end up with a faded repeat of the original. This was that very production.
The cast, as we are well aware, had several big names. Donna Murphy, Amy Adams, Denis O’Hare, and the rest of the 56 other cast members! There was a wonderful veteran involved, Chip Zion! He now played The Mysterious Old man (*SPOILER ALERT 20+ YEARS LATER: The old man is the father of The Baker, a role Zion originated in 1988!!!*)
If you have seen Tangled, you have seen Donna Murphy in Act II of ITW. Act I was strange, her costume was a bunch of moss and roots. Renewing the idea that if the Witch is cursed, it’s not making her old, it can be cursing her in a supernatual way.
Covered in compost.
Then there was Amy and Denis. Oh the chemistry!, or lack-there-of. I didn’t mind the age difference, especially when the show came together at the finale. Denis was unfortunately, still finding his character when I saw the show. Everyone was at that point, so I’m skimming on their performances. I highly enjoy O’Hare as an actor, but as a singer he faulted in this production.
Then there is La Adams. I adore her in all her many film roles, and I long to see her try the stage again. Unfortunately she has taken a cursed role. No matter how many revivals we have, no one and I repeat: NO ONE can reinvent the role Joanna Gleason originated. That aside, Adams was adorable. There were moments of genius in her, I long for her physical approach to comedy. It wasn’t explored here.
Now onto the juice of my review. The production! I am a costume man and what drew me to this production coming from London was the design aspects of it. The set, which was 4 levels and built into a forest. Rapunzel’s tower was a crow’s nest!
I knew that moving the production into Central Park would cause for changes. The set over all was beautiful and intimidating. Perhaps, too intimidating to even the cast. Thanks to Global Warming, there hasn’t been a chance for a normal summer in many years. The cast had to rehearse in heatwaves and rainstorms. Fosca Murphy has had to wear compost on her face in 90+ degree weather! Amy Adams has had to sustain that bun on her head and wearing layers of clothing and NOT sweat. NOT SWEAT while running up and down 4 levels of stage!
This is no easy feat and for that I applaud them! When the show opened I was invigorated! Now I am going to gracefully move into the section I did not enjoy. I am a costume man, and one of the things that intrigued me from the London production was the costume design.
The characters all seemed to flow, everyone lived in the same world. Meanwhile, in this current production, Emily Rebholz, designed the style of the show and it was thoroughly disappointing. The story of ITW in this production is told by a little boy who has run away from home. His father has yelled at him and he is in the forest making up stories. Something I relate to as a child growing up literally IN THE WOODS. That is another story though.
In the plot of the musical, there are three main story lines, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and the newly created tale of the Baker and his Wife. In Cinderlla’s story Cindy (Jessie Mueller) is an emo-slave girl with black framed glasses, a loose-fitting dress, handkerchief on her head and ironic tattoos (not to mention the knee pads). Her stepmother and step sisters are strange morphs of Lady Gaga reject outfits.
Her mother in the tree is a 1940s Housewife wearing an impressive, but still odd, light green dress adorned by leaves. She is a TREE after all.When she gives Cindy her ballgown, I was hoping for a vast improvement. . .to be polite, it was not what I’d hoped.
Look at those legs. . .alas.
Then there is Jack and his mother, who really have no theme. They are just absurd images of what you would expect from a Steam Punk wet dream.
The Baker and his Wife are more folksy than anything else. Ms. Adams sports a large bun on her head and I found that endearing. I enjoyed what others have referred to as a “Rat’s nest.”
The chorus is a mass of different themes. There is Hansel & Gretel who wear white outfits with candy glued to them and in their hair. The Wolf is Little Red.
Speaking of Little Red Ridinghood. The show was hers. Red (Sarah Stiles) reinvents the character in a way that is cohesive with the intense reimagining of the staging. She begins the story as a young, intensely ADHD, girl who is off to see her grandma in the woods. Her encounter with the Wolf is literally a lesson in how innocence can be corrupted. She is seduced and becomes a young woman, not with sex, but with character choices.
We watch in her big number of Act I, how she has learned things now, “many wonderful things”, and is now going to look at life through a mature pair of eyes. Ms. Stiles shows this change throughout her unfortunate lack of scene time. She was a breath of fresh air anytime she was on stage.
Her costume, which changes (one of the FEW costume changes in this production), even reflects the mental state of the maturity of Little Red.
Brava! The show is for you!
I could go on ripping the costumes, but I feel I have said enough. Go, the run has ended. If you saw it, then you can disagree. If you haven’t, then my word is solid.