What happens after "happily ever after" is explored in this deft and delicious production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's 1987 musical, Into the Woods.
Jeffrey Denman immediately engages the audience as the show's wiry Narrator. He intertwines some of Grimm's Fairy Tales as familiar characters wish aloud for what is improbable for them. Jack (Justin Scott Brown) wishes his cow, Milky-White, would give milk while Jack's Mother (Cheryl Stern) wishes he would fetch a good price for the old bovine. The Baker and his Wife (Erik Liberman and Danielle Ferland) wish for a child. Little Red Riding Hood (Dana Steingold) wishes to visit her grandmother without getting lost in the woods and attacked by the Wolf (the rakish Nik Walker). Cinderella (compassionately played by Jenny Latimer) wishes to go the festival in the forest, while her Stepmother (Alma Cuervo) and stepsisters, Lucinda (Eleni Delopoulos) and Florinda (Nikka Graff Lanzarone), try to, well, side-step her. Rapunzel (Britney Coleman) wants out of the tower in which her mother, the Witch (outstandingly portrayed by Lauren Kennedy), imprisoned her. With every wish that is fulfilled, there is a price to pay. Their stories are interwoven in part by the Witch's offer to reverse the curse of infertility suffered by the Baker and his Wife, the history of the magic beans that grow the stalk that Jack climbs to get his fortune, and the introduction of characters who were, perhaps, forgotten or lost in Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Mysterious Man and The Steward (both played by Jeremy Lawrence).
The Sondheim-Lapine retelling of the childhood stories we grew up with is though-provoking, even without delving terribly deeply into the underside of fairy tales. In the first act, the characters get their wishes after making their courageous journey. In the second, they learn the adage, "Be careful what you wish for because you just may get it." There are lessons to be learned indeed. Cinderella's Prince (played by Walker) tries to pursue an unseen Sleeping Beauty, but settles for a roll in the hay with the Baker's Wife, who is a mother at last, while Rapunzel's Prince (Robert Lenzi) lusts after an off-stage Snow White. Little Red Riding Hood is hardly the sweet little girl that intended parents wish for, but the sassy 'tween or teen they dread. After the Baker's Wife dies, the characters blame each other for the threat of an angry giant in the woods. The Witch admonishes the characters who, "Told a little lie, stole a little gold, broke a little vow...Had to get your Prince, had to get your cow/ Have to get your wish, doesn't matter how."
This production was co-produced by The Westport Country Playhouse and Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE. It was recently announced that Rob Marshall ("Chicago") will direct a film adaptation of Into the Woods for Walt Disney Pictures. A new production of Into the Woods will also be staged this summer as a Shakespeare in the Park offering with two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy as the Witch, Amy Adams as the Baker's Wife, Gideon Glick as Jack and Jessie Mueller as Cinderella. But don't think they can top this ensemble. One expensively dressed theatregoer said to her husband on opening night at The Westport Country Playhouse, "This was as good as or better than on Broadway." She's right. The flawless casting by Tara Rubin Casting, complemented by Mark Lamos's skillful direction, Allen Moyer's scenic design and Robert Wierzel's lighting in Westport Country Playhouse's intimate setting give the theatregoer an extraordinary experience.