Magazine article The Sondheim Review

More to Learn of What You Know

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

More to Learn of What You Know

Article excerpt

Boston Into the Woods offered a lesson in merging tradition and innovation

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is located near several universities - including an office for Williams College, Stephen Sondheim's alma mater - and a hop, skip and a jump away from myriad others. So it's only fitting that the Lyric's 2014 staging of Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods (May 9-June 29), a show in which the idea of learning figures prominently, college town. Moreover, this production, helmed by Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, offered a lesson in being inventive while remaining faithful to the material.

A unique sense of tension underlies the musical - individual vs. community, farce vs. tragedy, familiar vs. uncomfortable - and this staging reflected that tension in its fusion of old and new. Lapine has described the Baker and his Wife as a 20th-century couple from Brooklyn transported to a fairy-tale world; the Lyric's Into the Woods achieved a similarly playful relationship with time, containing equal parts tradition and innovation.

On one level, the production went against expectations, its aesthetic more expressionistic than the realistic, conventional look of the original Broadway mounting and Disney's upcoming big-screen adaptation. David Towlun's set was comparatively sparse, primarily consisting of barren trees behind a mostly bare playing space, painted with gray and blue rays emanating from center stage. This simplicity foregrounded the actors, who utilized the intimacy of the 240-seat venue to foster a palpably direct connection with the audience.

At the same time, the animated silhouettes of the Giant and Cinderella's birds in Johnathan Carr's projection design succeeded at maintaining distance, since we never saw the entities casting the shadows. Adding to the show's requisite tension were the lighting and costumes, which blurred the lines between natural and fantasy, between "once upon a time" and today. The striking hues that Scott Clyve splashed across the cyclorama behind the trees served as a mood ring for the action, reminiscent of the otherworldlyTechnicolor in The Wizard of Oz. Mirroring another ubiquitous fantasy film, Elisabetta Polito dressed some of the cast in rich color combinations that resembled Wily Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Other outfits synthesized traditional and contemporary sensibilities through a combination of 19th-century pieces, such as vests and corset dresses, and more current items, like the Baker's Wife's ballet flats. …

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