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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
INTO THE WOODS
at the Delacorte

A SHODDY TREE HOUSE
By MATT WINDMAN

  Amy Adams and Josh Lamon/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The Shakespeare in the Park revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 fairy tale musical Into the Woods was expected to be – and by all rights should have been – the theater event of the summer.

After all, it is based directly on a 2009 London production that received unanimous raves. And with a stellar cast that includes film star Amy Adams and Broadway goddess Donna Murphy, many assumed that it would immediately transfer to Broadway.

While it is not the disaster that a few people have described on Twitter following the first preview performance, it proves to be a frustrating, puzzling and poorly staged production that turns an inspired masterpiece into a mess.

It’s actually hard to believe that Into the Woods marks the first Sondheim musical to be performed in the park. After all, West Side Story, A Little Night Music or even Sweeney Todd would make great selections. And doesn’t “Sondheim in the Park” have a great ring to it? But Into the Woods, which takes place entirely outdoors, is certainly a fine choice. And it is one of the most popular musicals in the Sondheim canon.

The show’s clever first act combines a number of fairy tales – including Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel – around the framework of a Baker and his wife attempting to undo a spell placed upon them by an ugly witch.

Although all seems to end happily by intermission, act two continues their stories and emphasizes that all actions have consequences, the importance of acting on behalf of a community and the lessons passed on to children by parents.

Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel’s production begins with the inspired notion of making the narrator, typically played by an older gentleman, into a young boy. But except for this one intriguing idea, the rest of the revival is in disarray.

The three-story set, which resembles a giant tree house with numerous ladders and stairways, towers uncomfortably over the cast. With scenes performed on multiple levels, it is often difficult to follow the show. And since the set is parked at the back of the stage, it often feels as if the cast is miles away.

The costumes are garish and perplexing. Little Red, for instance, wears a red bike helmet, and the Baker’s Wife dons an ugly pompadour-style wig.

The performances are a mixed bag. As the Baker’s Wife, Adams is vocally strong but lacks a distinct characterization. Murphy, in spite of a few sensational moments, has pitch problems. As the Baker, Denis O’Hare is noticeably miscast and quite whiny.

At least Chip Zien, who played the Baker in the original Broadway production, is terrific as the Mysterious Man.

I personally doubt that this production will transfer to Broadway. But then again, everyone was surprised when the Kennedy Center’s revival of Follies, which received mixed reviews when it premiered in Washington, DC, announced that it would play Broadway, where it was substantially better than before. Perhaps a trip to the Great White Way will put Into the Woods into shape. 

 


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