Monday, August 20, 2012

REVIEW: INTO THE WOODS at Shakespeare in the Park

Yesterday, I felt like I was Cinderella getting to go to the ball. I didn't think I would get to see the Public Theater's star-studded production of INTO THE WOODS, but won virtual lottery tickets on a whim, and dropped everything to get to Central Park's Delacorte Theater to see the show. (I live in PA, so this was not so easy). While I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite musicals performed by an amazing cast, after reading some of the reviews, I was not sure what the outcome of this night of theatre would be.

This was the first staged production of ITW I have seen, and for all that has been said about this production, my major problem was with the show itself, as written by Lapine and Sondheim. It feels like two shows and is way too long. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this three hour production.

I feel like this cast was truly outstanding. While individually, I had some problems with some of the actors (I'll get to that later), when the ensemble worked together, this production found magic. I felt like this show worked like a well-oiled machine in the ensemble numbers and fully brought to life the world of Sondheim and Lapine's show. I liked that the ensemble was almost always there and was spot on when they were. I also loved the plot device of the narrator as a young boy. I feel like it added so much to the performance.

While I would love to dissect every performance of every major character, that isn't possible so I'll just give some highlights.

- From the beginning, Ellen Harvey stuck out among the ensemble as truly outstanding. I didn't know she was in the show and every moment she was on stage, she commanded attention, whether she was the focus or not.

- Sarah Stiles and Gideon Glick as Little Red and Jack respectively, stole the show with their comedic timing and amazing performances. Stiles was hilarious every time she was on stage. Glick was endearing as the small-minded Jack, and was amazing in (one of my favorite musical theatre songs of all time) Giants in the Sky.

- Jessie Mueller is a star. Or she will be very soon. Her voice was probably the best in the entire cast, and she soared above everyone else as Cinderella. This show should go to Broadway, just for her and Donna Murphy.

- Denis O'Hare as the Baker was very interesting for me. There were times I loved him and times where I was completely annoyed by him. You could tell they cast him for his acting chops, which were great most of the time, but he held his own with Sondheim's score.

- Amy Adams also was a mixed bag. In her major professional theatre debut, I feel like she definitely did well, but stumbled at times. She missed a few musical cues and couldn't fill the time. She also was not nearly as big and animated emotionally as she should have been to fill the Delacorte. Her performance perked up in the second act significantly, with Moments in the Woods being a true highlight for her. She did honorably, but if you want to see the show for her, it isn't worth it.

- Lastly, Donna Murphy. Her turn as the Witch was truly magical. She hit every comedic and musical note perfectly and brought her professionalism and experience to this cast. She led the cast perfectly and seemed to be the crux holding the whole thing together.

Technically, the show was great and I loved the set design. Being outdoors added so much to this production.

I highly recommend everyone try to see this show before it closes September 1st. I think it was an amazing show and I am interested to see its life following this run. While I know the production is aiming for Broadway, regardless of the amazing performances, I'm not sure it would work in an indoor theater. We will just have to wait and see. So now, I'm off into the woods...

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