By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Come for Stephen Sondheim’s sublime lyrics and tunes, but stay for James Lapine’s thought-provoking set of fairy tales, hilariously sung and often wackily acted by an uber-talented and diverse cast! In addition, though, there are also moments of meltingly, heart-achingly beautiful singing. Yes, the Washington, DC metro area has another hit musical on its hands! “Into the Woods” is as well- presented as I have ever seen it, and I’ve seen more than a few productions since it opened on Broadway in 1987. This one is well worth your time and attention.
I’m sure most of you know the story, but quickly, Sondheim and Lapine’s second collaboration after “Sunday in the Park with George” came out of a desire to create a story based on childhood fairy tales. The two men discovered that if those beloved characters and tales were presented in a new way, and if dark components were added to the mix, the new “old” fairy tales would appeal to both adults and children. The resulting storyline allowed Sondheim and Lapine the freedom to explore “what if” circumstances, e.g., what if Cinderella’s shoe doesn’t slip off, but is left behind on purpose? What if the Baker’s Wife were to have an affair with the Prince? What if the Giant were a “She”? What if the woods provided the dark, magical place where all this could happen? And what if the entire story turns on the quest for obtaining the things you think you want, and the consequences of getting those things….well, therein hangs the tale.
Stirringly directed by Peter Flynn and brilliantly choreographed by Michael Bobbitt, the actors/singers must have been asked to explore their own strengths and feelings in order to give us their best work! Rachael Zampelli as the Witch simply blew me away! Her lovely, distinctive and quirky voice is exactly the way you would want all Witches to sound, and when she needs to be evil—no one is more wicked! Speaking of lovely sounds—Erin Driscoll as Cinderella plays her with just enough cheekiness to give Cinderella some pizazz, but her beautiful soprano on “No One is Alone” in the second act will melt your heart.
Surprises include the adorable Tiziano D’Affuso as a live, spunky Milky White (the cow) and Christopher Mueller, who plays Cinderella’s Prince as if he were in a melodrama, with a hilarious little hop and turn before each exit. I’ve also never heard him sing better. And Little Red Riding Hood (Jade Jones) is simply wonderful. Perfect casting! There are also stilt-walking wolves played by the two Princes. Genius! And speaking of sopranos, Rapunzel (Quynh-My Luu) does a magnificent job of wailing. The Baker and his Wife, played by Evan Casey and Awa Sal Secka, bring a reality to these roles that I haven’t seen before. Both are strong, effective singers and their interactions with the rest of the cast bring a welcome (in my opinion) earnestness to this production.
Now I‘d like to discuss the superior sound! Sondheim’s lyrics at best are difficult to understand on the first hearing, or even on the second, but David Budries, the Sound Designer, must be singled out for kudos! Every single word from every actor—heard, understood and appreciated! The projections, too, especially in Grandma’s house when she gets eaten—also needs applause. Tastefully done, but graphic and gory enough that any teenager will love them! And William Yanesh’s strong, rich-sounding eight-piece pit orchestra never overpowers the singers.
All in all, this “Into the Woods” is a must see, especially if you’ve seen it or even more if you’ve never seen it before! Trust me on this! And you’ll really thank me when you hear Cinderella’s Prince, when called out on his need to stray from the marital bed, proclaim what I think is the best Sondheim line of all time, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere!” Boom! I rest my case.
Cast: Scott Sedar, Erin Driscoll, Samy Nour Younes, Tiziano D’Affuso, Evan Casey, Awa Sal Secka, Maria Egler, Justine “Icy” Moral, Ashleigh King, Rayanne Gonzales, Jade Jones, Rachel Zampelli, Christopher Michael Richardson, Karen Vincent, Christopher Mueller, Hasani Allen, Quynh-My Luu, Wyn Delano, Ryan Burke, Kristen Garaffo
Creative: Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Peter Flynn, Michael Bobbitt, William Yanesh, Milagros Ponce de Leon, Wade Laboissonniere, Rui Rita, David Budries, Clint Allen, Anne Nesmith, Kim Scharnberg
Performance and Ticket Information: “Into the Woods” runs now through May 22, 2019 and is recommended for ages 12 and older. Running time is 2 hours 40 minutes including one intermission. Tickets may be purchased at www.fords.org or by calling 202-347-4833.