Critic's PickOne of the songs in Into the Woods warns, “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.”
After much searching and frustration — not to mention great music (17 musicians led by conductor Stephen Goers) and vigorous choreography (conceived by Patti James) — the act ends with dreams coming true.But then there’s Act II, when things don’t quite turn out to be “happily ever after.” The princess who courted Cinderella and Rapunzel (John Riddle and Matthew Amira) aren’t perfect. The beans Jack received for Milky White grow a vine to a castle in the sky where his thievery invokes the wrath of a giant and his fearsome wife. Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and Jack’s mother die in the aftermath, the Baker’s wife meets her demise after a dalliance with Cinderella’s prince and the Witch regains her beauty but loses her magical powers. Things are not so perfect as the characters had imagined. Some people find this a downer, but the message conveyed by Sondheim’s songs, Lapine’s book and Berg’s clear direction is that happiness is what you make of it.In fact, we learn that parenting isn’t so easy and that building a coherent community is something that requires everyone to pull together and make some sacrifices for the greater good. There are many children to be raised — some without parents by this point in the story — and the survivors come to have learned that they are all responsible. It’s a lovely, mature lesson.But the show is also a wonderful tangle of tales and humorous characters. Riddle, as Cinderella’s devastatingly handsome (and constantly preening and posing) prince, tells her, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Johannigman plays Cinderella as a bit of a klutz, which makes her all the more endearing. Young, a truly gifted freshman, makes Red Riding Hood a mouthy brat whose fierce exterior belies the little girl inside. The show’s visual inventiveness, especially the intrusions of the Giant’s wife as a gigantic finger and a blinking eyeball, is a constant treat.Into the Woods requires a broadly talented ensemble, and that’s what Berg has assembled. Each performer has a memorable moment. Cook’s snappish Witch and Graydon Long’s Narrator/Mysterious Man keep all the stories spinning. Blem’s Baker is a lovable, deer-in-the-headlights Everyman, egged on by Rombola as his spirited, independent wife, but in the end, his solid, kind spirit pays off.
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