by Gary Davis
First things first. Should you see Into the Woods at Lyric Arts Main Stage? Yes, but remember, they sell out frequently, so get your game in gear and get tickets.
Second, a confession: I have not seen the movie version currently in theaters because I don’t want to compare the two. That would be like comparing apples and, say, kumquats. Just not appropriate.
Now, to the show. Entering the theater, I was reminded that one of the best things about Lyric Arts is their sets. This one is no different. Scenic Designer Ben Olsen has constructed a multi-level, multi-entrance wooded set that beautifully supports the action of the show, with its interweaving fairy tales.
For the uninitiated, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine have weaved together several fairy tales and imagined them all meeting in the magical woods near where they live. Like all fairy tales, everyone lives happily ever after, that is, if the show ended when Act 1 does. Act 2 is much darker as the fairy tales un-weave, only to be followed by a ‘kinda happily ever’ after ending.
With the exception of the Narrator (more on that later), director Matt McNabb has cast the rest of the show to type….with an ensemble of excellent actor/singers. And that ensemble is the essence of this production.
What I like most here is that Mr. McNabb avoided caricature, with the characters being believable, even though they are fairy tale characters. This show can lead to “over the top” caricatures and director McNabb has given us true characters who let the circumstances of the play drive the humor and emotion.
Another strength is that all of the cast carries their vocals well, essential in that this show is almost all music, with 25 songs. The 10-person pit orchestra (seated behind the set), led by Louis Berg-Arnold, is excellent and, thankfully, does not overpower the vocals.
As expected at Lyric Arts, other technical elements are professional and support the action on stage seamlessly. Of special note are the sound effects for the giants. The theater literally was shaking when the giants came to the woods. Caution to parents of young children, you may want to hold their hands here.
Another item of appreciation I took away from this show was, while none of the dance scenes were spectacular, they fit the mood and pace of the show perfectly. There is more to choreography than dance numbers. The almost continual movement in this show was really one long dance number and I have to think choreographer Penelope Freeh had a lot to do with that. The show is relatively long, over 2-1/2 hours including intermission, but does not feel long because of the pace and the numerous plot lines.
You may have noticed I haven’t discussed any individual performances, and with apologies to individual cast members, there will be none, as I would feel compelled to discuss all of them. This cast is excellent across the board, with the major distinguishing factor the size of the role.
As promised, a note on the narrator role. Director McNabb has cast a middle school age boy in this role. At first, I was not sure how that would work, but it turns out it works very well. This young man is obviously “of the show” but not in it, so his constant presence on stage adds to the story as he supplies props and sound effects. Kudos for an innovative casting choice.
Gary Davis is a local actor/director who is a big fan of theater.