Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back Into The Woods

While the country is enjoying the film adaptation of the Sondheim classic musical "Into The Woods", if you are in New York you can indulge in yet another treat currently running off-Broadway. Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at The Laura Pels Theatre, this woods is unlike any other you have probably seen. 10 actors (and one MD) share the story of the beloved fairy tale characters that James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim weaved together in a story back in the late 80s. 

This musical has had three Broadway productions, another in Central Park, the film adaptation and numerous companies around the world have presented their version of this story. A story that goes beyond happily ever after to a much darker place when Jack (you know, the one that climbed the beanstalk), opens up a portal from the sky to the village where giants can roam freely destroying the kingdom. Or is it Jack's fault? Much blame is passed around this story from the witch to Little Red to Cinderella. Lapine and Sondheim used a baker and his wife's desire to lift a curse on their home and have a child to send them out into the woods to gather items the witch told them to fetch. And thus all the fairy tales are spun together in a beautiful score and book.  

While this off-Broadway show is presented by The Roundabout, credit must truly be given to the ensemble theater company The Fiasco Theater that has conceived and re-imagined this production. Gone are the huge sets and large casts and instead actors play multiple roles, play instruments, become birds and crying babies - all while taking items from the stage and turning them into props and costumes. One should experience it freshly instead of me giving away something here...but let's just say playing multiple characters and creating exciting images (towers, step sisters, a giant's wife) are all part of the magic of this incredible production. The idea is not entirely new as it's something one would see in a college setting or a touring children's theater show (where items are pulled from a trunk and children use their imagine), yet it is a perfect solution for producing a big show on a smaller scale. It's also right up the alley for this 'family children's fairy tale' that can entertain all ages. Theater is about using your imagine and this group takes us by the hand, leads us into the woods, and we believe every single thing they feed us.

This ensemble theater is a well oiled machine, having worked together for years as graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Rep M.F.A. acting program. And it is obvious they know how to work off of each other and with each other - that is the joy of seeing an ensemble that has a history of presenting works together. One of the fascinating elements of this group is when reading the bio, so many credits are for straight plays and not musicals. You can tell they have attacked this piece as actors first (which I've always heard Sondheim say he'd prefer an actor to a singer in any of his shows). To single out any one performance would take away the beauty of what they have worked so hard to achieve. But I would tell you that you'll laugh, you'll smile, you may shed a tear, and you'll feel every glorious, frightening, enchanting moment that this remarkable team is feeling on that stage. 

Catch it before it closes! You'll be so glad that you did.