Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Wait a second, Into the Woods...again? It does seem to be popping up quite a bit lately. This is Roundabout's off-Broadway production of Into the Woods with the Fiasco Theater company that doesn't use an orchestra or a real set. Intrigued? You should be.
I have been a big fan of this show from a very young age. My dad was the "old man" in a community theatre production in Florida when I was 3 or 4 years old and I've loved the story and the songs ever since. It probably was one of the first musicals I ever saw and obviously had a big impact on me. I've also seen the Broadway recording with Bernadette Peters many many times (and you should as well, I think it's on Netflix). The movie version came out this past year and did fairly well. Needless to say, there are lots of ways to see this show and you're missing out if you haven't yet. For anyone who has performed in this show, they know how incredibly difficult the music is to sing. That is thanks to the incredible Stephen Sondheim. And for anyone who has seen the show, they know how interesting it is to see all these fairy tales darkly intertwined and that is thanks to James Lapine. It's a classic for a reason.
I attended this particular production on Friday night because I heard they really "broke" the production down and also one of our clients was the associate director. So to set it up for you, the stage looked like someone's attic that had all these old, random objects. In the center was an old piano on wheels and the actors were wearing barely any costumes. More like old-timey undergarments that they could throw different clothing items on top to change into different characters. On the sides of the stage were different instruments that the actors played when they weren't in the scene. A lot of the instruments were what you would expect some country folk band to have. The narrator role was divided between all the actors, and several actors played several parts which made for some funny scenes when they had to switch back and forth. To give you even more of a picture, the two princes rode stick horses, the wolf was actually a taxidermy wolf that an actor held up, the tower was a ladder, Rapunzel's hair was a long yellow scarf, and the cow was played by an actor with a cowbell around his neck. I just kept thinking it looked like all the grandkids got together to put on a show for the family and they used what they could find.
Everyone was extremely talented but the Baker (Ben Steinfeld) and the witch (Jennifer Mudge) were standouts to me. I think Ben's Baker was one the best I've seen. For that role there is a very fine line between being this ornery husband that no one likes and a whiny/weak husband. I was able to follow and respect Ben throughout the journey. And the song with his father (excluded from the movie) was really moving. I think I read in an interview with Jennifer, but she pointed out how hard it is to not imitate Bernadette Peters. Bernadette was so iconic and had such a powerful character that her portrayal a lot of the time goes with future witches. I think Jennifer brought out a more relatable witch but still sassy. And her "Last Midnight" was the most powerful version I've ever heard.
So I will say act one was a little slow for me and at this point, I've heard the songs so many times and know the story so well that's hard to stay with them the whole time. I thought act two was incredibly well done and I had forgotten how dark it gets (yes Disney, people actually die and you see that happen). And I think the message that came across the most with this production was how you don't realize how all the little decisions you make affect so many things in your life. "Maybe I shouldn't have gone to the ball..." "Maybe I shouldn't have strayed from the path..." When you're not happy where you are, how far back do you look?
And a quick shoutout to the Fiasco Theater company (http://www.fiascotheater.com/) who I had not heard of before this production and this is their mission: to offer dynamic, joyful, actor-driven productions of classic and new plays, and to offer high-level theatrical training through classes and workshops (at low or no cost). We believe that theater is a societal foundation. It brings communities together, teaches empathy and has the power to inspire, galvanize and heal people. It’s vibrancy is necessary for the health of a culture, and shouldn’t be a luxury only accessible to the wealthy. We also believe that people who choose to create art for a living should be able to make a living doing so and shouldn’t have to choose between creating art and a living wage. Fiasco’s mission is to invert that equation: we seek to offer art to the public at affordable prices while paying the artists who create it a living wage. We do so by enlisting the generosity of donors, corporations and foundations in support of artist salaries and subsidized ticket prices.
My hat is off to you Fiasco! Thank you for doing what's right!
Who should see this show:
- People who love Into the Woods
- People who have never seen Into the Woods and are interested
- People who like to see smaller shows doing something different/creative
How to get tickets:
- Closes April 12 so hurry!!!
- If you're under 35, sign up for Hiptix and get $25 tickets: http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/HipTix/Join-HIPTIX.aspx
- $89 tickets here: http://www.playbill.com/club/offer_detail/into-the-woods1