Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory, Producer: The Fiasco Theater. Directors: Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim, Author: James Lapine
Cast includes: Ben Steinfeld, Jessie Austrian, Noah Brody, Paul L Coffey, Andy Grotelueschen, Patrick Mulryan, Emily Young, Claire Karpen, Liz Hayes, Vanessa Reseland, Evan Rees.
Dates of run: July 1 – September 17
Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes including interval.
If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone, not so much because of the dangers that lurk there as for our far greater ability to fight them as a team. That’s the standout message from this dark and gleeful take on a clutch of fairy tales and on real relationships.
Under co-direction by Noah Broady and Ben Steinfeld, a fast-paced, cohesive cast makes the value of a strong community resounding. All of the actors have big roles that they play to the full, on occasions to the point of hype, but we absolutely forgive them.
From the outset, it’s a production that defies expectations not least in its audacious casting.
Andy Grotelueschen – who plays Milky White, a very poignant cow, and doubles as Rapunzel’s not conventionally handsome Prince — advises the audience that Jessie Austrian – who plays a Baker’s Wife ready to do almost anything to have a child – is in real life very obviously pregnant.
Somehow the discrepancy serves only to underscore one of the musical’s other messages: be careful what you wish for because wishing alone is nowhere near enough.
Children are the prime instance of wishes whose fulfilment ends in disappointment particularly for parents who fail to assume responsibility.
Patrick Mulryan is to us the adorably kind, gentle Jack, but to his unsentimental mother, played by Liz Hayes, he’s a dullard dragging them both into poverty.
But it’s between Emily Young as Rapunzel and Vanessa Reseland as her mother, a very forceful Witch, that the sparks fly. They give us fluent comedy as Rapunzel basks in a narcissistic love of her own golden hair and a world in which she is the centre and they give us something more darkly psychological as Reseland’s Witch seeks to keep her daughter all for herself and deny her her Prince (Grotelueschen).
The play’s other Prince is co-director Brody, who informs us his inadequate upbringing taught him only to be charming not sincere, a deficit central to the second half of the production.
We could easily finish with part one, a musical in its own right with all the ends apparently tied off. But the performance is much more satisfying and in tune with our stressful times for a second half that takes us back into the woods just when we thought we were out of them.
Barbara Lewis © 2016.