PITTSFIELD, Mass. – After attending a production of “Into the Woods,” you’ll never be able to look at your favorite fairy tale characters the same way again.
Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, of beanstalk fame, two Prince Charming’s, the Baker’s Wife and the Baker himself are figures in this Stephen Sondheim musical. And yes, it includes the wicked stepsisters and their mother, along with Jack’s mother, a royal steward and a mysterious old stranger. And, though the giant who lives on top of the beanstalk doesn’t make an appearance, she does make her presence known.
They each show themselves to be flawed individuals with very human wants and desires. Their iconic status makes them perfect metaphors for a show that contains the message: know for what you wish, because unintended consequences always lay in wait.
Indeed, the excellently performed production that is at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. through July 13, plays like two separate shows. The first is fantasy romp in which the characters enter the woods in pursuit of something that might make them happy. The second act is dark and dangerous.
The Baker and his wife are searching for four items to give to a witch who has cast a spell on them. The spell prevents them from having children. As a quid quo pro, if the Witch gets the items, his curse of ugliness will be removed and his former beauty restored. The catch is the four items are in the possession of Red Riding Hood, Jack, Rapunzel and Cinderella. Giving them up can mean their own dreams of riches, romance and happiness might be impacted. The items are not surrendered willingly.
This is a tale as complicated as it is fascinating. The characters wander the woods getting lost and stumbling into each other. Often the meetings are funny, sometimes they just set up a song, but too, their encounters reveal secrets. The first act, ends with everyone getting what they want – or so it seems.
The second act turns serious. The wife of the giant who was slain by Jack comes wanting the boy to suffer for his actions. Her size is causing buildings to crash and crops to be razed. It becomes clear that she must return atop the beanstalk or be killed. Before either of those things happen, several of the characters we’ve grown to like - die.
It’s a very serious segment, one that is not advised for children. Indeed, like most of Sondheim’s work the moral of the piece and the lessons learned by the characters are sensitive, humanizing and wise. But it will not appeal to everyone. This is a dark show with a lot of emotional twists and uncomfortable situations.
It’s also a long show. Two hours and forty-five minutes, including intermission, can be tough for modern audiences. There is little dance and the songs, while compelling and beautiful, demand concentration as the lyrics are critical to the story and character development.
It’s not till the end of the show that the songs become familiar. Indeed, the final numbers “No One is Alone” and “Children Will Listen” provide the message within the show.
Those two numbers are proceeded by the haunting, “The Last Midnight,” an ominous number sung by Mykal Kilgore. It’s non-traditional having a man play the role of the Witch, but it’s winning choice. Kilgor not only has a marvelous singing voice, his portrayal is able to suggest the danger that lurks in the woods for everyone.
Mara Davi is terrific as the independent and loving Baker’s wife, while Jonathan Raviv is a sensitive Baker, the man whose personal journey defines the play. Amanda Roble’s is a self-aware, kind Cinderella and Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton is fun as her ego-driven Prince Charming. Thom Sesma brings the perfect blending of mystery and caring to the role of The Narrator. There are no weak performances in the large cast.
“Into the Wood” is an intricate tale which director Joe Calarco always keeps in clear focus. The eerie but beautiful score is a just as complex and Darren R. Cohen’s 12-piece orchestra plays it with sensitivity.
“Into the Woods” at Barrington Stage continues through July 13. It’s a difficult but satisfying work that will stay in your memory. For tickets and a complete schedule call 413-236-8888 or go to barringtonstage.org