“ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE WOODS.”
Creatively staged and powerfully performed with a perfect line-up of talent, the Writers Theatre revival of “Into the Woods” debuted Wednesday in a magnificent Gary Griffin-directed production. Stephen Sondheim’s epic musical journey to the other side of happily-ever-after of the Baker and his wife, masterfully conjoined with the familiar fairy tales of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Rapunzel” earned eight 1988 Tony Award nominations, and received three, including best original score for Sondheim, best book for James Lapine (who was also nominated for best director), and best performance for Joanna Gleason. (Lapine was nominated again as best director in 2002, in which the show won, among ten other nominations, best revival).
Griffin, musical director Matt Deitchman--who also contributed re-orchestrations--and choreographer Aubrey Adams have amassed one of the finest companies of actors and vocalists to grace a single stage in Chicago, including the commanding presence of Bethany Thomas as the Witch; stellar turns by Michael Mahler and Brianna Borger as the Baker and Baker’s Wife; a touching performance by McKinley Carter as Jack’s Mother; and the spirited return to the stage of Writers’ artistic director Michael Halberstam in the role of the Narrator.
Central to the fairy-tale stories and the fabled lessons learned are the superb performances of Lucy Godínez (Little Red), Ben Barker (Jack), Ximone Rose (Cinderella), Cecilia Iole (Rapunzel), Alex Benoit and Ryan McBride (the Princes), William Brown (Mysterious Man/Cinderella’s Father), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Kelli Harrington) and her stepsisters, Nicole Armold (Lucinda) and Molly Hernández (Florinda). Mary Poole’s Milky White is bovine bliss. Rounding out the cast are Matt Edmonds, who doubles as Steward/Wolf, and Harriet Nzinga Plumpp (Cinderella’s Mother/Granny).
Proving that “anything can happen in the woods,” scenic designer Scott Davis transforms the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre into the dense forestland of “Once upon a time in a far-off kingdom” with audience on all sides, elevated stage areas and multiple access points to accommodate the robust action of the company, which is decked out in Mara Blumenfeld’s glorious costumes, as well as the onstage musicians—Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, Jeff Handley and Mike Matlock—all highlighted with Lee Fiskness’s dynamic lighting design and the giant-sized sound design by Christopher M. LaPorte.
So much about who we are and what we leave behind is wrapped up in our ability to tell our own story. The most poignant stories—often told when we believe that no one is listening—are rooted in the multi-layered parables of “Into the Woods” that have been told and re-told until the morality of the tale is indistinguishable from that of the storyteller.
At every dramatic twist and comical turn, Griffin taps into our inner aspirations and the hope we share that in the face of adversity, everything will turn out the way we planned. This show asks, “What will happen when our wishes really do come true?” and, “When there is no longer someone to help us tell our story, how do we confront and overcome the darker, challenging threats to our existence and begin again?” The answer to these profound questions lies in our understanding that we are a community of human beings who must work together to survive. And in these woods, we cannot do it alone.