New York, New York August 23, 2022 --
When the lights came up on Stephen Sondheim's glorious musical Into The Woods the audience went wild applauding. In the end, the reception was well earned. Several fairytales are braided into one comical and disturbing story executed by a stupendous cast. Conceived by Sondheim, written by James Lapine, and skillfully directed by Lear DeBessonet, this production transferred from City Center Encores! with just a couple of cast replacements. The result: brilliant. Perched above the stage, the orchestra conducted by Rob Berman, bolsters the soundscape.

Matched to perfection, the cast features James D'arcy, the slightly wishy-washy baker; his spot-on wife, Sara Bareilles, and the wicked Witch with attitude, Patina Miller. Childhood fables form a crossroads between the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and The Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella plus a Mysterious Man (Rumpelstiltskin-type character).

Intent on getting to grandma's house, Little Red Riding Hood (a new comedic talent, Julia Lester) stops at the baker's house for goodies, then heads into the woods trailed by the vicious(ly) funny Wolf and later Prince, Gavin Creel. Scarily street smart, Red not only nearly gets the best of the wolf, she basks in a new red cloak trimmed with his wolf fur.

Rounding out the tableau, Jack (a congenial Cole Thompson) and his power-singing Mother (Aymee Garcia) struggle to force a living from their mangy white cow, expertly manipulated by the puppeteer Kennedy Kanagawa.

Meanwhile, all the kingdom is fussing over the glamorous palace ball. Longing to meet the prince, Cinderella (the golden voiced Phillipa Soo) toils away, beating back her step-sister's and step- mother's (Nancy Opel) taunts.

Further afield, in a tower locked away from the world, Rapunzel (Alysia Velez) sits mooning out the window, winding a laddar-long golden braid to the ground for her lover, Prince (Joshua Henry) and on occasion, for her mother, the Witch!

All these stories are set in motion when, desperate for children, the Baker and his Wife realize a spell cast by the Witch has caused their barrenness. In exchange for a baby, the Witch demands the Baker fetch a number of items including a red cloak, a cow white as milk, a golden slipper and lock of hair yellow as a cornhusk. The odyssey curls them through the forest on a hero's journey that reveals many human foibles, and socio-political inequities.

Sent to market to fetch money for the cow, Jack crosses paths with the Baker who spies his cow -- white as milk. In exchange for 5 "magic" beans, Jack gives up his beloved pet cow. Distraught by his folly, Jack's mother chides him, but after the beans are planted, the stalk grows as does their wealth. Eventually, all the items are collected; the Baker and his wife have a baby and all the characters sail through their designated rites of passage and arrive at their "happy spot"---or so they think.

Part 2 takes a turn towards the dark side. All is not well in the castle or the far-reaching lands. A giant terrorizes the folks, and the fault lines between the wealthy and the poor appear seismic.

Sondheim's riveting score propels the story up to the generally expected fairy tale ending, a place where everyone's wishes come true. But that's when everything falls apart. Happy endings are built on dreams that age and distend. Soon, new worries replace old dreams.

Despite the sober ending, when an act closes with the sublime "Children Will Listen," all is well with the world.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis


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