ARLINGTON, VA – Smack dab in the heart of the holiday season comes Into the Woods. For fans of the legendary collaboration of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, this is the ultimate delight. This semi-autobiographical musical has brilliant lyrics, a stunning score and all-around silliness wrapped up neatly in a big red bow. It’s part farce and part tragedy – a metaphor for the vagaries of life played to the hilt by a formidable cast. I’ve seen it before on a grand stage and I have to say it didn’t feel as moving as this intimate staging by Director and Choreographer, Matthew Gardiner, who never ceases to amaze me with his brilliant reinventions of classic musicals.
Remember the Disney film version with Meryl Streep and a cast of Hollywood stars that debuted a few years ago? Okay, try not to. It was godawful. Well, this is nothing like that. It’s imaginative and intimate thanks to Lee Savage’s wonderful set design that features unique entrances and exits. It’s a sing-through and mash-up of Jack (the hilarious David Merino) and the Beanstalk, Cinderella (Katie Mariko Murray), Little Red Riding Hood (Alex De Bard) and Rapunzel (Simone Brown) and her Prince (Paul Scanlan),a giant (voiced by Phylicia Rashad), Cinderella’s mother (Maria Rizzo) and wicked stepsisters, Florinda (Adelina Mitchell) and Lucinda (Chani Wereley), and the Baker (Jake Loewenthal) and his Wife (Erin Weaver) whose despair at childlessness introduces us to all the storybook characters. There is a brief reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but they don’t make an appearance. We do meet Cinderella’s Mother (Crystal Freeman), Jack’s Mother the incomparable (Sherri L. Edelen) who also plays the Granny), Cinderella’s Father (Lawrence Redmond), the Wolf (Vincent Kempski who also plays Cinderella’s Prince) and Steward (Kurt Boehm). All thanks to the Narrator (Christopher Bloch who also plays Mysterious Man).
And though we despair of the plight of the baker and his barren wife we laugh wholeheartedly at the Witch’s demands that they deliver to her Jack’s beloved milky white cow, Red Riding Hood’s blood red cape, Rapunzel’s yellow-as-corn hair and the golden slipper from Cinderella – quite the tall order to ensure the wife’s fertility. As for keeping it light-heartedly silly, Sondheim gifts us with the three campy stepsisters and an enchantress Witch, who morphs into a sexy temptress. For those of you already familiar with Nova Y. Payton who plays the Witch you will swoon at her delivery of “Children Will Listen” and “Stay with Me”. I wanted to press ‘Repeat’, but alas.
Meanwhile, amid all the wishes and fears of the characters, cue romance – as when the prince has an extramarital sylvan tryst with the baker’s wife and explains it away by asserting, “Foolishness can happen in the woods.” In fact, all the ills of the world are allegorically represented by the characters encountered in the woods where we find heroes and villains and those whom we imagine to be, but even they protest their typecasting. Why? Because as the Narrator tells us, “People make mistakes” and others have ulterior motives. Flaws are us, it seems to say. Deal with it.
Costume Design by David I. Reynoso; Lighting Design by Amanda Zieve; Sound Design by Eric Norris; with a fifteen-piece orchestra led by Jon Kalbfleisch,
Through January 29th in Shirlington Village at 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit www.SigTheatre.org or call the box office at 703 820-9771.