It’s hard not to wax poetic about Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS, and the national tour of director Lear deBessonet’s City Center Encores production-turned-Broadway-revival fortunately does this master work of musical theater justice. Watching INTO THE WOODS on Friday night, I was reminded of how this show beautifully expresses the responsibilities that we have to our fellow humans. As with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from which it draws inspiration, INTO THE WOODS is a cautionary tale: A reminder that our actions have consequences. As the ensemble sings in the show’s finale “Children Will Listen, “Wishes come true/not free.”
This is one dreamy production with simplistic yet magical production values and a cast that sings Sondheim’s complicated, gorgeous score immensely well. When it comes to how to showcase INTO THE WOODS, this production is a real dream come true. I saw understudies in the significant roles of the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella, but both were stellar. As the Baker’s Wife, Ximone Rose has a quiet power, but she also has a grounded, authoritative presence next to her often harried husband the Baker (Sebastian Arcelus, lovely). Ellie Fishman was dazzling as Cinderella; her vocals are soaring and delicate, and she plays Cinderella’s frazzled state on the steps of the palace with great effect. Fishman has a piercing, lush tone, but she also has the vocal power needed to carry off Cinderella’s songs. The second act stunner “No One Is Alone” has always been one of my favorite Sondheim songs, and when Fishman takes the lead on it, she makes it all the more potent. In contrast, Katy Geraghty plays Little Red as not frazzled at all. Geraghty plays Little Red with brash, naive confidence and sings the heck out of “I Know Things Now.” Gavin Creel is likewise spectacular as The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince. Creel maximizes the role of Cinderella’s Prince for comedic effect, and his vocals are always spot on. As Rapunzel’s Prince, Jason Forbach is a capable comrade-in-arms, and the two make great work of “Agony.” Montego Glover is fantastic as The Witch; she’s wicked, funny, and has the vocal power needed to bring down the house.
The question of how to stage Milky White is always a tricky one with INTO THE WOODS (look up “Low-Budget Milky Whites” on tumblr, and thank me later for the laughs). With some ingenious puppetry, this production has solved the problem of Milky White. Kennedy Kanagawa is a masterful puppeteer. Cole Thompson is endlessly endearing as Milky White’s owner, Jack, and he has great power to his voice.
INTO THE WOODS is a moving, beautiful testament to this iconic Sondheim musical. The production feels both timeless, and of the moment, particularly with its central theme of the longing for human connection.
INTO THE WOODS runs through May 7 at the Nederlander Theater, 24 West Randolph. Visit Broadwayinchicago.com.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy