In “Into nan Woods,” nan assemblage laughs astatine nan gluttony of nan Little Red Ridinghood character, particularly successful nan earliest, astir deliberately cartoony parts of nan production. But successful a sense, nan crowd is getting disconnected connected gorging, arsenic well, since this is nan eventual having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too show. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine weren’t excessively proud to navigator up their 1987 classical pinch copious amounts of Mad magazine-style spoofery — aliases Looney Tunes-level laughs, moreover — and yet you tin consciousness for illustration those seemingly quiet calories are justified, knowing you’ll beryllium gulping backmost salty tears by nan end. “Into nan Woods” is arsenic overstuffed pinch characters and ideas arsenic immoderate philharmonic ever has been, but if everyone does their occupation right, you time off emotion for illustration you’ve conscionable been fed a perfectly balanced meal, and not a morsel more.
A nationalist circuit of past year’s much-loved Broadway revival has conscionable touched down astatine L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre for its last stop, and boy, is everyone doing their occupation right. How often, arsenic a non-New Yorker, do you get to show group that 1 of nan half-dozen top American musicals has landed locally successful a type that’s arsenic world-class and adjacent to flawless arsenic immoderate modern type is ever apt to get? If this were genuinely a fairy tale, “Into nan Woods” would widen astatine nan Music Center for years, and L.A. Sondheim fans could extremity successful each six months aliases truthful for a belief booster changeable against nan pandemic of giants successful nan land. But arsenic nan show makes it its ngo to remind, endings are fleeting, not ever-after, truthful 4 weeks is each anyone has sewage to bask an incarnation truthful happy it’s for illustration nan surviving embodiment of nan extremity of Act 1.
As nan caller tally of “Sunday successful nan Park With George” astatine nan Pasadena Playhouse reminded Angelenos, Sondheim has a point for shows successful which nan 2nd enactment is very different from nan first, pinch “Into nan Woods” arsenic nan much universally celebrated example. The conceit — nary longer arsenic caller arsenic it was successful 1987, though conscionable arsenic clever successful execution — is that nan world of imagination bedtime tales is really an intersectional caller alternatively than a bid of short stories, pinch 4 main storylines and astir arsenic galore diversionary branches. At nan bosom of nan ensemble portion is simply a childless mates (played by IRL marrieds Stephanie J. Block and Sebastian Arcelus) each excessively hopeless to travel nan directions of a proudly wicked witch (Montego Glover) astir really to undo a fertility curse.
These instructions magnitude to grand-theft-Grimm, arsenic nan babe coveters spell connected an epic travel and find that everyone they request to bargain from aliases swindle is connected a woodsy travel of their ain and not eager to springiness up their precious. There’s Cinderella, pinch her typical slipper (Diane Phelan); Rapunzel, aka sister-golden-hair astonishment (Alysia Velez); Jack, of “…and nan beanstalk” fame (Cole Thompson), pinch his sickly pet cattle successful tow; and Ridinghood (Katy Geraghty), snacking distant for illustration a pubescent stoner, oblivious to why this mates lusts aft her reddish overgarment moreover much than nan Wolf (Gavin Creel) craves her pasty flesh. Tertiary players see a narrator (David Patrick Kelly), who… well, let’s conscionable opportunity that if you ever thought narration successful a play was expendable, truthful does nan fourth-wall-breaking formed here, literally; and a related brace of princes (Creel, again, and Jason Forbach) whose shared vanity successful their show-stopper, “Agony,” astir apt group nan modular for latter-day Disney schmuck-hunk villains for illustration Gaston and Prince Hans.
Will they each unrecorded (or die) unhappily ever after? Does a elephantine shmush successful nan woods? The severity of their fates is reasonably unpredictable; moreover if you’ve seen nan show before, nan abrupt decease of 1 of nan astir sympathetic characters still has nan powerfulness to tie a gasp. In Act 2, “Into nan Woods” has a assemblage count almost for illustration a slasher movie, which tin beryllium a small startling to anyone who sewage excessively lulled by nan comparatively much benign shenanigans of Act 1, which only has happy-go-lucky worldly for illustration group getting their eyes pecked retired aliases heels sawed off. The fable (which is true, according to Lapine!) is that during nan show’s very first tally successful nan ‘80s, a busload’s worthy of theatergoers thought nan full point was complete astatine intermission and headed crossed nan parking batch to spell location erstwhile they were coaxed backmost into nan theater. At nan Ahmanson, nan show still person that effect connected newbies, arsenic 1 first-timer could beryllium heard successful nan lobby telling friends location could not perchance beryllium thing near to settee successful a last hour.
There is, and portion of that is finally, erstwhile and for all, wiping nan sensation of nan 2014 Disney movie adjustment retired of everyone’s minds. It’s not that Rob Marshall’s adjustment was a full disaster (the lingering wide statement among “Into nan Woods” fans mostly amounts to: “Not astir arsenic bad arsenic I expected”), but it was a filmic curen of a tragicomedy that seemed to beryllium astir arsenic acrophobic of some slapstick and sorrow, favoring an inoffensive, mushy middle. What a alleviation it is, then, for anyone who mightiness not person seen a shape type since then, to re-experience each nan chortle-out-loud moments that sewage undercut for nan intent of surface realism. (It’s worthy pointing retired that nan show’s polarized moods are not truthful schematically divided up that nan authors don’t propulsion successful plentifulness of laughter lines moreover aft things get profoundly sad and dark.) How overmuch greater, connected apical of that, erstwhile 2 of nan theater’s awesome conjoined show-closers — “No One Is Alone” and “Children Will Listen” — get a small earlier 11 and, connected cue, you find yourself checking your tear ducts, not your watch.
This “Into nan Woods” brilliantly hits each hilarious aliases somber statement it needs to, acknowledgment to nan brisk, smart guidance of Lear deBessonet, resisting immoderate enticement to grow connected nan minimalistic but cleanable staging she instigated pinch arsenic a New York City Center Encores! quickie run.It’s besides owed toan ensemble formed of anyone’s dreams, pinch arguably nan 4 astir important parts — nan baker and his wife, nan witch and nan dual portion of nan wolf/prince — filled by actors indelibly repeating nan roles they played connected Broadway and, somehow, not astatine each visibly exhausted astatine nan adjacent of a six-month tour.
The mobility of who nan existent “star” is successful an ensemble arsenic antiauthoritarian arsenic a “Woods” accumulation often gets decided by stunt casting, by default. Lapine has said that nan witch is nan existent leader of nan show, being nan astir reliable truth-teller. (“You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re conscionable nice… I’m conscionable right,” goes her celebrated cut-down line.) That surely proves existent erstwhile it’s Meryl Streep put into nan role, for nan movie — or, erstwhile a 2002 revival originated astatine nan Ahmanson earlier going connected to Broadway, it was Vanessa Williams successful nan part. Bernadette Peters successful nan original run? You couldn’t telephone it a competition. But for nan intent of evening things out, it’s bully having little of a marquee sanction casting spells, pinch Glover ably making nan transitions from a astir Disney-animated crone to glamorous diva to, finally, a benignant of rageaholic sage. That she has a small Eartha Kitt successful her does not wounded astatine all, erstwhile she’s tasked pinch immoderate of nan show’s sexier aliases angrier asides.
The 1 character who gets to beryllium much of a showboat than nan witch is whoever’s handed nan wolf ears, and subsequently nan prince’s crown — successful this case, Creel, who is truthful impossibly entertaining successful his lupine shape that it’s almost nan wolf’s early demise that hits hardest, moreover if you’re clued successful capable to cognize that nan character will hardly beryllium sitting retired nan remainder of nan show. Without his invoking immoderate 1 inspiration, Creel’s wolf is nan closest point we’re ever going to get to a top-flank Elvis regular embedded successful a Sondheim show. Enjoy that operation of energy and blase sophistry while it lasts. As Ridinghood, meanwhile, Geraghty astir matches Creel, laughter for laugh, successful a azygous role. Having nan damsel-in-distress really beryllium a knife-wielding juvenile delinquent runs nan consequence of coming disconnected arsenic a one-joke conceit, now arsenic successful 1987, but Geraghty does wonders not conscionable keeping nan laughter coming but getting a small much visibly quality pinch nan sexual-awakening number “I Know Things Now.” (Thanks goodness that, successful nan theater, we tin person that opus sung by an big again, without nan icky implications that came pinch casting younger for nan film.)
There’s besides a cardinal domiciled that tin spell unmentioned among nan astir captious ones conscionable because sometimes it’s fulfilled by an character but much often by an inanimate prop. That would beryllium Milky White, nan saddest sack successful nan world’s agelong history of cows, caught up successful a tug of warfare betwixt his beloved keeper Jack and nan mercenary voyagers who spot her arsenic a stepping chromatic to a baby. In 2002’s L.A./Broadway productions, Chad Kimball made a sanction for himself arsenic nan cow, bravely taking connected a domiciled sometimes fulfilled by insubstantial mache. This Milky represents nan perfect compromise betwixt quality and prop, envisioned arsenic an accordion-like skeletal fig brought to life, puppeteer-style, by Kennedy Kanagawa (another of nan twelve Broadway formed holdovers). Together, nan bony cattle and Kanagawa person their ain pathetic starpower. With nan Ahmanson website advertizing that Milky White will beryllium disposable for photograph ops astatine a vino reception connected July 6, honestly, that mightiness beryllium each nan meet-and-greet anyone needs this year.
But nan “leading” roles, if they tin really beryllium said to beryllium successful “Into nan Woods,” look to person shifted backmost to nan baker and his wife, pinch Sara Bareilles having taken connected nan second for Broadway past twelvemonth and husband-and-wife Arcelus and Block having taken them complete for nan adjacent of that tally and into this tour. The baker domiciled is, if not a thankless task, a taxing one, inasmuch arsenic he drives truthful overmuch of nan action by sheer ineffectualness, albeit pinch nan changeless threat of graduating to existent virility aliases accomplishment. Arcelus almost projects excessively overmuch can-do tone to beryllium rather correct playing specified a timid soul, but he manages nan travel from loser to imaginable leader well, and is conscionable nan stand-in nan men successful nan assemblage will request arsenic their minds rotation to whether they’ve been well-served aliases grounded by begetter figures, aliases arsenic dads themselves.
But this is skews adjacent to becoming anybody’s showcase astatine all, successful particular, it comes closest to being Block’s. She’s truthful powerful successful her first obsession pinch becoming a mother, past her unexpected hunger to beryllium a lover, that you thin to hide that her characteristic behaves pinch arsenic overmuch careless, laughable, disturbing venality arsenic immoderate of nan others. Isn’t nan baker’s woman nan situational ethicist who sings, “The ends warrant nan beans” (the closest point to a groaner successful nan Sondheim songbook)? Doesn’t she cheat? Didn’t she resistance mediocre Milky White crossed nan hefty magnitude of nan Ahmanson stage? All that, and yet Block gets immoderate of nan biggest physical-comedy laughs of nan show erstwhile she gets practically orgasmic conscionable encountering a prince successful nan woods… conscionable earlier prompting a heartbreaking wistfulness pinch her philosophical solo ballad, “Moments successful nan Woods.” It’s a hellhole of a show that tin retrieve correct aft subjecting arsenic superb and sympathetic an character arsenic Block to 1 of nan musical’s astir crushing moments.
Block gets 1 of nan astir celebrated verses, recalibrating her consciousness of aforesaid successful nan aftermath of a tryst: “Just remembering you’ve had an ‘and’/When you’re backmost to ‘or’/Makes nan ‘or’ mean more/Than it did before.” (As nan kids mightiness say, astir each nan innuendo successful this score, IYKYK.) Sondheim’s lyrics and Lapine’s book are afloat of dozens, possibly hundreds, much aphorisms wherever that 1 came from, of course. For a show that recalls nan activity of animator Tex Avery aliases Mad mag satirist Frank Jacobs, “Into nan Woods” is besides denser pinch haunting truths than conscionable astir thing this broadside of Shakespeare’s funnier tragedies. There’s not overmuch astir nan astir halfway elements of quality beingness that doesn’t find a spot successful this initially frothy piece: greed, lust and nan eternal casting of blame; nan faint dream of breaking nan chains of generational sin; nan elusive tasks of taking individual work and uncovering meaning successful community.
In different words, location could ne'er beryllium a bad clip to put connected an “Into nan Woods” revival. But tin “now much than ever” apply? As nan Act 2-heralding opus says, “There are big, tall, unspeakable giants successful nan sky…” To that, we tin say: We know, Steve — we’ve been reference nan news — and convey you.