Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Ambivalence and Ambiguity

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Ambivalence and Ambiguity

Article excerpt

Seattle's 5th Avenue presents Into the Woods

Perhaps it takes a full-scale production of Into the Woods as sincere, well sung and straightforward as the one at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre (Oct. 20-Nov. 10, 2007) to reveal the assets and flaws of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's storybook musical. Let's start with the attributes that have helped make Into the Woods, which debuted on Broadway in 1987, one of the most accessible and popular of shows composed by Sondheim - and (not always advisedly) the one parents are most apt to bring young children to see.

The latest chapter in the 5th Avenue's ongoing commitment to the Sondheim canon, Into the Woods first and foremost boasted an opulent score, including such eloquent standards as "Children Will Listen" and "No One is Alone." At the 5th Avenue, the score received tender loving from young conductor and musical director Ian Eisendrath and a cast of mainly Seattle-based performers with sparkling voices and Sondheim chops. They tackled songs that sharply deconstruct the skein of interwoven fairytales that constitute Lapine's elaborately entwined plot. As the archetypal characters from the Brothers Grimm and elsewhere undergo their Jungian "mythic quests" in the woods, these odes betray their ambivalence.

In "Agony," as bracingly sung by Michael Hunsaker and Logan Benedict, the dashing prince consorts of Cinderella and Rapunzel, preening romanticism clashes with nagging doubt. Cinderella, here a runaway bride, is more blatantly torn about her fate in the reverie, "On the Steps of the Palace," beautifully articulated by the beguiling soprano Billie Wildrick.

Another fine, seasoned Seattle singer-actress, Leslie Law, was as impressive as Wildrick (albeit in a more folksy way), as the Baker's Wife whose head is turned by "A Very Nice Prince." Weary of her bickering marriage to the Baker (an amiably sturdy Bob De Dea), she also strikes into the unknown. After a fling, she becomes grateful for her lot, despite its frustrations. In "Moments in the Woods," she sings: "Back to life, back to sense/Back to child, back to husband./You can't live in the woods."

Into the Woods is, however, very much about wanting to live where the wild things are -while paradoxically holding fast to "normal" life, with its humdrum routines and sustaining attachments. In one of the show's cruder ironies, the Baker's Wife is killed moments after having an epiphany about just that.

Eventually, the musical becomes more about the search for community ties than individual adventure and satisfaction. …

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