Top positive review
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Charming AND sincere!
on February 1, 2002
INTO THE WOODS is one of Stephen Sondheim's most beloved shows, but even more credit should go to book writer / director James Lapine. College courses across the nation study this intricate, entertaining, and thought-provoking musical. The book is at turns humorous and challenging.
Lapine cleverly combines four of the Grimm brothers' most famous fairy tales, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Ridinghood, and couples them with his own fairy tale about a childless Baker and his Wife. On one level, the show is simple enough. Act I introduces the characters and charmingly chronicles their well-known adventures of fulfilling their wishes on the way to "happily ever after." In Act II, the community faces a frightening new problem, one in which neither the characters nor we know how the story will end.
But on another level, we slowly come to realize that these characters' celebrated virtues can also be considered major flaws. Jack is a thief. Cinderella runs away instead of telling the truth. Rapunzel cannot cope in civilization after years of virginal isolation. Beauty is not the same thing as power. Those who fall in love at first sight may have wandering eyes....
Lapine and Sondheim's message is best summed up in Cinderella's lullaby to Red Ridinghood, "No One Is Alone." Every action we take has a consequence to others. Right and wrong, black and white, good and evil, give way to half-truths, shades of gray, and ambiguity. Only in hindsight can we evaluate if the ends justify the means by which we pursue our dreams. We must remember that our values and our stories will have a lasting impact on our children.
Lapine has brought together a wonderfully talented cast, including Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, Kim Crosby, Ben Wright, and Danielle Ferland. They have great comedic abilities to enhance the plethora of witty moments in the script, and most have good singing voices. The standout performance, however, is by Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife, humorous yet serious, conniving yet sincere, strong yet fragile.
Sondheim's score is filled with songs perfectly crafted to propel the storyline forward, most notably the lengthy opening sequence. Other great moments include "It Takes Two," the "Agony" reprise, "Moments in the Woods," "Last Midnight," and "No One Is Alone." However, more than most shows, these songs lose some of their punch outside the context of the plot. Therefore, I recommend purchasing the video. Once you've seen the show, you'll get more enjoyment out of listening to the CD, if you still wish to purchase it.