As soon as you arrive at the theatre you are treated to one of the most beautiful forest sets imaginable, which you get to enjoy until the music begins and then for the duration of the show as it moves and changes and shows you different aspects of itself. It’s a feast for the eyes and designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec should be very proud as it not only looks fabulous, it does a wonderful job of moving us place to place within the story. Jose Santiago’s lighting is equally beautiful as are Jordan Ross’s costumes.
Larry Yando makes a very strong Mysterious Man/Narrator and is even more present than you often see in productions of this musical. He makes his appearances felt and milks them for all the comedy value he can, setting the tone for the entire production, which really leans on the comedy in the story, even playing the Grimmer portions for laughs. The entire cast follows his lead for better or worse, really standing out in whatever they do.
We are fortunate to have a very strong Baker in Stephen Schellhardt and an equally strong Baker’s Wife in Sarah Bockel. Seeing their desire to have children puts the entire plot in motion, the fact that they are both a believable married couple and also absolutely solid in their roles gives the entire show the bedrock to build upon. You care about them and their story, even if you know the show backward and forwards.
This is an ensemble show and this ensemble is very strong indeed. But a few absolutely exceptional standouts are Christine Bunuan as Jack’s mother. She’s definitely going for the comedy value, but she makes us look at this character again, when it’s often a throwaway in comparison to her son. Molly Hernandez as Rapunzel is both the funniest Rapunzel I’ve ever seen and the craziest. And when she tells the Witch that what she’s done means Rapunzel can never be happy, it hits hard. Adam Fane the puppeteer of Milky White is standing in full view of the audience during the entire show and you still are only looking at his sweet, loving cow. The performance is just exceptional. Dana Tretta as Riding Hood’s Grandma has one of the best comedy moments in the entire production and makes her cameo something special.
And not only does Lucy Panush have an absolutely great voice, but she is a wonderfully violent Riding Hood. Yet in the later parts of the musical you also believe her doubt, fear and sadness. She might be best in show, and that’s a lot of folks to stand out against.
There are some weaknesses, but only in comparison to this show’s strengths, so I’m not going to mention them here other than to say it does make you briefly wish for more or a different take or something else. But then this production brings you another delightful or scary or wonderful moment and you skate right along into the story.
The thing this production really had against it the night I saw it was a major issue with the sound system. Some people’s mic placement meant that when they turned their heads to one side, you couldn’t hear them. The lower notes in everybody’s range were markedly softer than the high ones, so the whole ensemble seemed shrill. If it was just one person, I’d write it off as that person’s voice, but these issues were universal. Particularly ill-served were Will Koski as Jack and Natalie Weiss as the Witch. They are both critical parts and you couldn’t hear Jack half the time and the Witch had serious wacky volume changes during phrases depending on her blocking. It pulls you out of their performances. Also, the Giant’s voice was just too loud. You couldn’t make out her lines at all. I hope this is improved during the run.
All the big moments you expect in Into the Woods are here and charmingly staged. The Princes are exceptionally funny as usual and nailed the show’s most memorable song. The falling trees and giant seem genuinely menacing. The deaths are all impactful. The costumes were beautiful. It’s really everything you can want in a production. It runs from now until March 19. You should go see it. Tickets are available at the Paramount Box Office.
Video montage here.
Photos by Liz Lauren.