April 2002

The Broadhurst Theatre 
235 West 44th Street
New York

Potomac Stages Broadway 

Into The Woods

Potomac Region theatergoers may feel that there is so much Sondheim here on local stages that the thought of traveling to Broadway to catch yet another revival may be more than they can take. The six new full productions of Sondheim shows in the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Celebration will be joined by the importation of a Japanese version of another, two concert programs devoted to his songs and even a children’s production of a reduced version of this very play called Into the Woods, Jr. But there is every reason to make the effort to catch the new Broadway revival of the Sondheim/Lapine adult treatment of a number of famous fairy tales. Fairy tales are important transmitters of society’s fundamental relationships and Sondheim and Lapine are about serious business here. Yet both are having a wonderful time with the puzzles they set for themselves and both are producing wonderfully entertaining material which this fabulous cast delivers with verve, energy and abundant good taste.

Storyline: A colorful first act blends the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and The Baker and his Wife into a mélange augmented with a witch and her daughter Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and assorted princes - all of which ends with the traditional "happily ever after." The dark and disturbing second act looks at the after which comes after "ever after" as the characters’ stories are carried beyond the fairy tale’s conclusions.

​Among the delights are the chance to hear Sondheim’s pun-iest score sung with such enunciatory precision. His score for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum may have been funnier but none of his scores was filled with so many genuinely funny puns nor have any been so openly cleaver. After all, the master of matching lyrics to character almost always has to write in the manner of the character singing the song. Here many of the secondary characters are really children’s book caricatures so he is free to let the writer’s personality come through. His delight at the freedom this presents is palpable. Where else could you find an entire song, humorous and delightful and story-advancing as it is, setting up a single punch line pun such as the one about Jack’s magic beans which ends on "The end justifies the beans."

The cast is nothing short of fabulous. Laura Benanti sings gloriously as Cinderella (just listen to "On The Steps of the Palace" for both enunciation and purity). Kerry O’Malley makes the Baker’s Wife the real motivator for the story in a practically perfect performance. Both Gregg Edelman and Christopher Sieber are rock solid as the two Princes – Act I’s "Agony" is exceeded only by Act II’s "Agony (reprise)" for genuinely witty delivery of wonderful word play. The two whose names are above the title are Vanessa Williams and John McMartin. Williams, as the witch, transforms not only in appearance (through a not particularly special special effect ) but in personality in a performance notable for both acting and singing. Her "Stay With Me" is to be treasured. John McMartin is charming and efficient as the narrator and intriguing as the "Mysterious Man."

The set design presents many "personalities" for a woods. An inviting green world only hints at dangers at first but progresses into a threatening, all enveloping grayness. There is one marvelous special effect involving Cinderella’s mother, a number of fine effects involving the Giant and the Giant’s Wife and a few simply acceptable effects along the way. But there are no costumes that are less than just right.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book and direction by James Lapine. Choreography by John Carrafa. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Musical Direction by Paul Gemignani. Design: Douglas W. Schmidt (scenery) Susan Hilferty (costumes) Brian MacDefitt (Lights) Elaine J. McCarthy (projections) Dan Moses Schreier (sound) Gregory Meeh (special effects) Jim Steinmeyer (illusions.) Cast: Vanessa Williams, John McMartin, Laura Benanti, Kerry O’Malley, Greg Edelman, Christopher Seiber, Stephen De Rosa, Marylouise Burke, Molly Ephriam, Adam Wylie.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book and Directed by James Lapine
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes
Price range $40 - $95