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Into the Woods

a Musical
by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4124

SHOWING : August 31, 2011 - October 02, 2011



Romance. Magic. Consequences.
The beloved Tony Award-winning musical allows you to slip into a world where magic beans create a ladder to the sky, Prince Charming is one golden slipper away, and wolves haunt the forest. Filled with soaring melodies by Stephen Sondheim, the master of modern American musical theatre, Into the Woods is a spellbinding musical filled with romance, magic and the unexpected consequences of dreams that come true.
In a unique collaboration between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Federation of Musicians, the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, the ASO Talent Development Programs, and the Alliance Theatre, a regional ensemble of young musicians will accompany the show and provide a visible underscoring of the show’s central message “Careful what you say…children will listen.”

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Stumping the Story
by Dedalus
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
It’s all about the stories. And the words. Yes, you can concoct scholarly theses centered on the influences of Bettelheim, on the threads of Campbell’s archetypes, on the historical synchronicities and similarities across various cultures, on the seemingly conflicting themes of maturity, wish-fulfillment, responsibility, and “children-as-witness.” All of these (and more) scholarly analyses have come out of the forests of academia. But, in the final analysis, any production of Sondheim and Lapine’s “Into the Woods” is all about the stories. And the words.

But, when a production lets disunified design elements and clever-not-smart ideas compete with the stories (and the words), that production is (sadly) lessened. Such is the case with the Alliance Theatre’s current production of this popular favorite.

First produced in 1986, “Into the Woods” combines several popular fairy tales with a new unifying story, sending its cast off on a classic quest and letting their fondest dreams come true. In the second act, they reap the dire consequences for the choices and compromises they made to win their “I wish” journeys. In other words, Act One is a happy excursion into childhood, the stories we always remember, the “happily ever afters” we always dream. Act Two is the darker journeys of adulthood, the taking of responsibility, the bonding together to achieve a goal, the moments of loss and despair. I have friends who insist that Act Two ruined the play for them, that they preferred the happy endings alone. I think Act Two is really what the play is about. Act One makes “Into the Woods” a good and fun-filled musical. Act Two makes it a GREAT musical.

To admit my biases up front, this is one of my all-time favorite shows. I saw the original production with Bernadette Peters, a Los Angeles production with jazz great Cleo Laine as the witch, several tours of the original, and about a half-dozen community theatre productions, one for which I designed lights. I know this play very well, and, as such, my standards and expectations are high (but not set in stone).

My clever-not-smart sense started tingling even before this show started, when I read costume designer Lex Liang’s concept of using costumes from various periods to produce a “timeless quality,” keeping with the dramaturgical detail that these stories are oft-told in different times and different cultures. In my experience, combining different eras in one story does NOT produce a “timeless quality,” but a “disunity” that distracts from the story (and the words). As soon as we see the Prince in a contemporary tuxedo in a scene with the Baker’s wife in feudal leather, the reaction isn’t “Ooh, Timeless!’ – it’s “WTF? That’s weird!” Individually, the costumes were beautiful and well-rendered, but when they were combined on stage, SOMEONE always seemed to “in the wrong story.”

On the other hand, I really liked the recurring woods-like motifs and colors in the set (by Todd Rosenthal), the lights (by Ken Yunker) and even the costumes. The set abandoned the original flat “storybook” look of the opening (a great choice IMHO) for a large stump out of which grew the various sets and branches, a storybook castle and oversized full moon in the background. Nothing was explicitly tree-like, but everything suggested forest – it was a woods of the imagination that worked so much better than the more realistic approaches too often attempted. In fact, whenever “realism” intruded (a forced perspective roadway that looks silly whenever anyone walks on it, an oversized button that rolls across the stage at a critical moment, a ghostly grandmother tossing a dress out of a tree (Cinderella’s ball gown, which I truly hated for being so out of context – whenever she wore it, Cinderella ALWAYS looked like she was “in the wrong story”).

Another issue I had with the concept was a casting choice. According to director Susan Booth’s program notes, she wanted to emphasis the “children-as-witness” theme that finds its path in the “Children Will Listen” number. As such, the outstanding orchestra was composed entirely of young (and immensely talented) young musicians, visible as part of the design throughout. So why was an adult cast as Little Red Riding Hood? Not to take away from Diany Rodriguez’ marvelous performance, but, being taller than the Baker and of equal stature and coloring to Cinderella, she just seemed, well, creepy. And, when she loses her red cape, she blends in so well I was distracted from the story (and the words) by too many “who is that woman with Cinderella?” moments.

Which brings me to what saves this production for me – the performances. There was really not a weak element in the cast, all of whom handled Sondheim’s music (and words) with remarkable skill and alacrity. I especially liked Angela Robinson’s Witch (whose antlers were a thing of beauty and a joy to behold), the Baker of Mark Price, Jill Ginsberg’s practical (yet starry-eyed) Cinderella, and Courtney Balan’s Baker’s Wife. The smaller roles were filled with many Atlanta actors (Courtney Collins, Jeff McKerley, Brandon O’Dell, Jeanette Illidge) all of who were spot on with their characters and their stories. Credit really needs to go to director Booth, choreographer Daniel Pelzig, and, especially Music Director Helen Gregory for seamlessly orchestrating this wide and disparate canvas into a seemingly unified collection of stories (and words).

So, how far would you go to realize your finest “I wish?” How much of a “mess” will your wish leave for someone else? How many of your arguments will your children hear and forever remember? What do you want to leave behind?

More than a collection of children’s stories, “Into the Woods” is a journey into the heart of adulthood, into what we bring from our childhood, about what we leave for those we lose behind. It’s a musically rich, profoundly moving dream of a show, lyrically complex and emotionally involving. It’s Sondheim at his peak, and I anticipate every new production with a sense of excitement like that of the start of a new forest journey.

And it is a telling fact that, even when a few design choice get in the way of the story (and the words), I am still caught up in the joy and the sadness of the journey. Though I may dwell on the brambles along the way in my comments, what I really remember are the sounds and the smells and he sights of the journey as a whole.

What I really remember are the stories. And the words.

-- Brad Rudy (



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