Into the Woods | The Muny

Into-The-Woods 75This production wasn’t everything I wished it would be; however, I still loved it overall!

 

 

 

 

Into-The-Woods 500

“I wish(ed) more than anything, more than life, more than jewels” that The Muny would select this show! Okay, more than life might be a bit of an exaggeration, but when I saw Into The Woods on The Muny’s 97th season lineup, I truly felt like I had gotten my wish!

I fell in love with this show prior to the 2014 release of the motion picture; however, the film only made me adore the story more—so much so that I ever so slightly wondered if I wouldn’t enjoy the next stage version just as well as I had the first time I saw it performed live by Webster University’s Conservatory. Regardless, it’s like this show was made to be performed at The Muny! I couldn’t image a more appropriate venue. I mean, just consider the narrator’s opening words: “Once upon a time in a far-off kingdom there lay a small village at the edge of the woods…” Now, The Muny isn’t small by any means, but it literally resides at the edge of the woods in Forest Park! Just walking to the venue from my parking spot, next to the woods, filled me with anticipation!

Into The Woods takes some of our favorite storybook characters and plants them all in the same small village the narrator speaks of. There’s Cinderella, Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood, and more! Each has a wish that sends them into the woods at the same point in time, so that their separate stories end up morphing into something much greater. Just as the phrase “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side” suggests, getting what you wish for isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and each character is forced to learn this the hard way.

I too realized by show’s end that in certain ways, this production wasn’t everything I wished it would be; however, I still loved it overall! I have great things to report, but also a few disappointments. Let’s get the latter out of the way first, but before that I want to give a bit more background!

The Baker and his Wife don’t come to us from a pre-existing story, they were made up specifically for this one. The couple is in desperate want of a child, but learn the witch next door has placed a curse on their home that prevents them from conceiving. “You wish to have the curse reversed? I’ll need a certain potion first,” the Witch instructs. “One: the cow as white as milk, Two: the cape as red as blood, Three: the hair as yellow as corn, Four: the slipper as pure as gold.” Into The Woods is a production with several major characters, but the Baker and his Wife are the focal point of it all. With such a prominent storyline, these roles must be well-cast, which brings me to one of my major disappoints with the show. While I wasn’t blown away by Rob McClure as the Baker (I was far more impressed when he appeared on The Muny stage as Gomez Adams), he did the job. Erin Dilly, however, fell flat entirely for me, as the Baker’s Wife. She brought no charisma to the character, and her vocals and acting were quite bland. My other gripe with the show also involves casting. Jack is a young boy, so in my opinion he should be played by such. With that being said, the fully-grown Jason Gotay as Jack didn’t do anything for me. Jack’s character is dim-witted, yet so well-meaning that you love him anyway. Gotay didn’t convincingly or charmingly capture these characteristics. I must admit I am partially biased because I was so blown away by the portrayals of these characters in the movie version. Daniel Huttlestone and Emily Blunt were superb in their roles as Jack and the Baker’s Wife. They set the bar extremely high for me and Dilly and Gotay didn’t come close to reaching it. 

With that said, onto the good, and there truly is plenty of it! The star of this show is, without question, Heather Headley as the Witch. Headley played Nala in the original Broadway cast of The Lion King and is a Tony and Grammy Award-winner. Her vocal range is absolutely phenomenal, and she her acting was superb! I can’t say enough how much I loved her! The other two shining performers were Ken Page as the Narrator and Elena Shaddow as Cinderella. The scenes that included these characters seemed far superior to the others.

Michael Schweikardt’s set design was brilliant. The show opens with a backdrop of painted shelves upon which hundreds of books are stacked, and in front of that are three giant wooden books. One book is for Cinderella’s story, the next for the Baker and his Wife, and the last for Jack. This really helped symbolize the incorporation of all of these stories into the show. There is movement to “the woods” that have been created, which aids the allusion that the area is grand in size and easy to get lost in, as many of the characters do.

In the playbill, Dennis Brown explains that, in creating this production, Stephen Sondheim wanted to produce a quest musical like The Wizard of Oz, “the one movie musical I had loved in which the songs not only defined the characters and carried the story forward but were wonderful stand-alone songs as well,” Sondheim wrote in Look, I Made A Hat. When I read this, my jaw dropped. The Wizard of Oz is my absolute favorite movie musical, so it’s no surprise that I also love a musical it inspired.

Into The Woods truly is the perfect quest musical; it’s whimsical, adventurous, heartfelt, funny, intriguing, mysterious, and lengthy, yet entirely capable of holding the audiences’ attention all the way through. I just recommend two things 1) if you’re entirely unfamiliar with the show, read a synopsis first (there’s a lot happenings on stage and it’s really easy to miss things, especially funny lines), and 2) don’t arrive expecting the movie. The two stand apart; however, they are both marvelous. | Megan Washausen

Into The Woods runs at The Muny through July 27. For ticket information, visit www.muny.org.

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