For most of us, the phrase “Once Upon a Time…” instantly evokes fond memories of fairy tales told to us by our parents. What most of us didn’t realize in our youth, however, is that those fairy tales were actually watered-down versions of older, much darker stories. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” which has been a fan favorite since it first debuted in 1986, takes all those missing dark elements, adds in a little moralizing of its own, and combines them into a fantastical, fabulous, and forebodingly fun little musical.
Director Joseph Haj’s version, onstage now through Playmakers Repertory Company and in rotating repertory with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is an exciting, intriguing, and instantly grabbing rendition of the quickly-becoming-a-classic show. From the stunningly choreographed and staged opening number, “Into the Woods,” which introduces (or reintroduces as the case may be) viewers to classic fairy tale characters to the melange-style ending, it is completely engaging.
In that first, brilliant opening number, viewers meet Cinderella (Caroline Strange) and company, The Witch (Lisa Brescia), Jack (Jorge Donoso) of Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Jessica Sorgi), and a host of other colorful characters as they set out on their journeys, each fueled by want. The story is established quickly, with each character’s intersecting needs clearly laid out and easy to follow. And, while all of the actors do a fine job with their respective characters, there are definitely some standouts early on.
Sorgi is innocent, annoying, and endearing all at once in her delightfully comic portrayal of Little Red while The Baker (Jeffrey Meanza), who is on a quest to collect magical objects in order to lift a curse that has left him and his wife barren, is made sweet, loveable, and perfectly protagonistic by Meanza. Also of note is the incredible Milky White, a large cow puppet of sorts brought to life by Katie Chelena and Mary Stewart Evans. The puppet is so wonderfully designed, with the saddest, sweetest little cow eyes that it instantly becomes believable as a real, living, breathing part of the show. And speaking of memorable “animals,” Gregory DeCandia’s portrayal of the Wolf (of the big, bad variety) is absolutely flawless. It doesn’t hurt that he’s decked out in a mask to beat all masks, but he manages to make the wolf’s (too) brief moments onstage creepy, funny, slinky, and oddly sexual.
And, if the first act isn’t enough of a warping of fairy tales, the second proves even more outrageous. The first could be a complete show in itself, with every character’s needs and wants seemingly satisfied, but the second act shows that satisfaction doesn’t really exist and that, with time, each character has a new quest calling him or her “into the woods.” The strong casting, costumes, and direction carry over into and through the second act, leading up to a gorgeous and strangely haunting closing number.
”Into the Woods” is part spectacle, part fantasy, and part brilliantly deep. One can watch it for the pure fun of the story, and indeed, one has to on a first viewing. There is so much more brewing under the surface though that repeat viewings are encouraged, perhaps even required, to grasp its full depth and beauty.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents INTO THE WOODS at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 and 21; 2 p.m. Nov. 22; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be a FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the Nov. 30th performance of Into the Woods.
NOTE 3: There will be an Open Captioning Performance of Into the Woods on Nov. 22nd (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
Into the Woods (1987 Broadway and 1990 West End musical): http://www.sondheimguide.com/woods.html (Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://www.jameslapine.com/into-the-woods (James Lapine web page), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=4753 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Woods (Wikipedia).
Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/IntoWoods/intothewoods.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Stephen Sondheim (New York City-born composer and lyricist, born 1930): http://sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), http://www.sondheimguide.com/ (Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12430 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).
James Lapine (Mansfield, OH-born playwright and director, born 1949): http://www.jameslapine.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6607 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lapine (Wikipedia).
Joseph Haj (PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director): http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=15b43fe8-a162-4c03-9218-ac7ebe7fd3a4 (PlayMakers Rep bio) and https://www.facebook.com/joseph.haj.3 (Facebook page).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.