Into the Woods, Cleveland National Tour, Jan. 10 to Jan. 29
Review by Laura Kennelly (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Intertwined fairy tales conjure “what ifs” in the latest Playhouse Square Broadway Series production, the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine hit, Into the Woods This touring version of the recent Broadway show, reshaped and reimagined by the Fiasco Theater and Roundabout Theatre, and directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, adds an extra element of amusement even for those who have enjoyed this whimsical show before.The clever and tuneful ensemble cast handles complex lyrics, dances, and choreographed entrances with ease. The latter is highly important because the stage gets very busy. Almost everyone plays more than one character and/or plays a musical instrument. Some truly shine, such as Lisa Helmi Johanson as the coy little Red Riding Hood and the hapless Rapunzel.
Evan Harrington as the Baker and Eleasha Gamble as the Baker’s Wife start the action with their wish to have a child. The story is then filled out by adventures with others who wander in and out of their own various stories. Cast members include Anthony Chatmon II, as the sexy wolf, Lucinda, and Cinderella’s Prince; Fred Rose as Mysterious Man; Bonnie Kramer as Cinderella’s Stepmother/Jack’s Mother; Laurie Veldheer as Cinderella/Granny, and Vanessa Reseland as the Witch. Even the “baby” (played by a bundle of rags) cries with feeling (thanks to various maidens just out of the scene).
There are, of course, many funny songs, such as the laughable “Agony” sung by the gallant princes (Chatmon and Pead). Theirs is a delicious duet dedicated to male fickleness and self-absorption. It’s even funnier in the second act than the first (like life, I guess in that it takes a bit of age to see the humor in some things).
The first thing audience members may notice when they arrive is that the Connor Palace stage looks like a jumbled mess. Framed by tiny boxed piano guts above and on the sides, it’s cluttered with junk: giant piano strings across the back, a ladder with extensions, loops of yellow yard, chairs, an upright piano in the middle, random costumes scattered about--typical backstage storeroom vibe. Scenic designer Derek McLane created a set, which looks, in a good way, like what might have happened if a giant had tossed the traditional set for the show--trees, a house, castle, etc.--into a Vitamix and then poured the resulting concoction out onto the stage. The ladders, benches, colorful structures suggesting houses, castles, gardens, woods all get put into use when needed by the nimble cast. Opening night, as items were called into service, only the upright piano remained in the center, even turning its back upon us once in awhile. Other times we saw music/director pianist Sean Peter Forte admirably pounding away on the piano and becoming part of the larger story.
On opening night, while we awaited the start of the show, members of the brilliant ensemble cast begin to appear, some waving at us, others intent on getting into costume. One cast member stepped up to remind us of the rules: “no photos, no phones,” and then added something new: “Before intermission it may look as if the show is over, but it isn’t. So stick around.”
Sure enough, after the rousing resolution to Act I, featuring the musical summing up we expect at the end of every show, the [Happy] “Ever After,” some of the audience did leave. Well, it was getting late, and the truth is that optimists and/or youngsters may leave at that point, completely satisfied. After all, the first act, shapes a complete drama of loves lost and found and evil overcome. You can safely take the little ones home and they will have sweet dreams.
However, grownups might like to stay and find out what “ever after” really means to Sondheim and Lapine. The rest of the story, as it were, is a bit cynical, with a bit of Voltairian disillusionment (as in “Candide”) laid on the contemporary mantra of “find your family where you can.”
Bottom Line: Beautifully done. It helps, more than it hurts, to know your Fairy Tales.
For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to playhousesquare.org. The show runs through January 29, 2017.
[Review by Laura Kennelly]