Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Truth and Consequences

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Truth and Consequences

Article excerpt

Baltimore/Connecticut staging of Into the Woods was full of plausible and compelling moments

Into the Woods is Stephen Sondheim and James Lupine's twice-told tale: told once as a morality play, in which virtue is rewarded and evil punished under the guidance of an all-powerful narrator, and a second time as a history, full of senseless tragedy and moral ambiguity, in which the narrator is overthrown. Don't just take my word for it. It was done flawlessly and with absolute clarity of purpose by Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE (March 7-April 16, 2012) in collaboration with Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut (May 1-19, 2012).

It began quietly, as the Narrator (a spot-on Jeffry Denman), a combination of God and El Callo, dressed in a suit that an Edwardian lord might wear if he were also a ringmaster (Candice Donnelly did the marvelous costumes), walked into a darkened room full of life-sized, motionless dolls. These were the characters that would animate the musical: the Baker (Krik Liberman) and his Wife (Danielle Kerland); Cinderella (Jenny Latimer) and her Prince (Nik Walker); Little Keel Hiding Hood (Dana Steingold) and the rest. To him they were little more than furniture, much like the miniature scenic design model that sat downstage left. The Narrator went to it and lit it. Suddenly there was a pounding on a trunk - Cinderella, emerging to sing the first strains of the Prologue, and from that moment on, the production and its fine seven-member orchestra (the Broadway original had 15) proceeded with the speed and power of a bullet train. You never doubted its destination, either.

One of the nice things about writing for The Sondheim Review is that I don't need to explain the plot. You know James Lapine's cleverly designed backstory, merging Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk (Justin Scott Brown) and Rapunzel (Britney Coleman) with the Baker and his Wife, who seek to shed the curse of childlessness by appeasing the neighboring Witch (Lauren Kennedy). What chiefly emerged from this production was the absolutely feral nature of these characters in the first act. They pursued their objectives undeterred by fear of consequence or moral implications; the closest a character came to compunction was The Baker's reluctance to tear Little Red's cloak from her shoulders, which came at least in part from the carsplitting screams that resulted from his attempt. …

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