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HomeOperaThe theater gods are shining on Sondheim's 'Into the Woods' at Signature

The theater gods are shining on Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’ at Signature


“God is within the particulars” was considered one of Stephen Sondheim’s three key rules for his craft, “within the service of readability, with out which nothing else issues.” The theater gods are absolutely smiling at Signature Theatre’s deliciously detailed manufacturing of a Sondheim basic, Into the Woods, directed and choreographed by Matthew Gardiner with extraordinary readability.

Begin with Lee Savage’s set design, an apparently deserted room returning to a state of nature, with an invading tree limb and foliage. All its options — a trunk, a wardrobe, a fire, an previous gramophone, a door not nicely secured on its hinges, a toddler’s cradle, a toy cell with small white birds — don’t merely set up the temper of the present however have a number of particular makes use of. Characters enter and go away by the fireplace and wardrobe. The cell turns into the flock of birds that performs an essential function at key moments within the story. The gramophone introduces an look by Cinderella’s lifeless mom.

The forged of ‘Into the Woods.’ Picture by Daniel Rader.

Starting because it does with a well-recognized, interlocking set of folktales — Cinderella, Little Pink Driving Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel — the central focus of Into the Woods is telling tales and exploring their that means. Within the mode of nice myths, the plot of Into the Woods is a quest story, two quest tales actually. Within the first, a Baker and his Spouse (Jake Lowenthal and Erin Weaver), with a view to break a curse imposed by the neighborhood witch (Nova Y. Payton) and have a toddler, should discover 4 gadgets, which brings them into contact, generally battle, with Jack (David Merino), Cinderella (Kate Mariko Murray), Little Pink (Alex De Bard), and Rapunzel (Simone Brown). They succeed, supposing that by getting their needs they are going to dwell fortunately ever after.

The second quest could be very completely different, because the characters should search out a large (the very offended spouse of the one which Jack killed) who’s rampaging the land, squishing every little thing and everybody in sight. The very completely different survivors of her onslaught should band collectively to battle her, resolve their inside conflicts, and discover a manner residence by the woods, within the course of creating a really modified group. This quest includes arguably the perfect solo quantity within the rating, the Baker’s Spouse’s “Moments within the Woods,” during which Weaver shines; the heartfelt “No One is Alone” (sung primarily by Cinderella and the Baker); and the finale’s “Kids Will Hear,” which, Payton once more starting in a quiet, lyrical mode, completes the play’s emotional arc.

In his e-book of lyrics, Look I Made a Hat, Sondheim factors to the Baker’s Spouse’s line “I’m within the fallacious story” as the important thing to her character. The Baker and his Spouse are a contemporary couple, by some means dwelling in a world of witches and giants and magic. Lowenthal and Weaver play this side of the couple completely, their have an effect on and methods of relating to one another, preventing and reconciling, and physicality being distinct from that of the opposite characters. It’s simple to consider them in a play a couple of relationship in a metropolis of right this moment.

The Baker and his Spouse (Jake Lowenthal and Erin Weaver) in ‘Into the Woods.’ Picture by Christopher Mueller.

As Jack, a boy briefly pants, Merino handles his quantity, “Giants within the Sky,” with the suitable awe, starting by standing on prime of the wardrobe. He efficiently performs the character’s youth and vulnerability, in addition to his urge for food for risk-taking. Talking of urge for food, it’s onerous to compete with the ravenous Little Pink, whom De Bard convincingly embodies as a really younger particular person, albeit one you wouldn’t wish to run afoul of in a darkish alley. Her wonderful “I Know Issues Now” explores her grappling with the engaging and mysterious and threatening elements of rising up.

Sondheim has at all times been a poet of ambivalence, and in Cinderella he and e-book author James Lapine created a younger lady who needs strongly for one thing she finds she is uncertain she needs, expressing her conflicted emotions very properly in “A Very Good Prince” and “On the Steps of the Palace.”

Three completely different girls tackle that phrase “good.” Cinderella, as she is being mistreated by her imply lady sisters, recollects that whereas her mom informed her to be good, her father informed her to be good. Little Pink notes that the Wolf appeared good and that “good is completely different than good.” In “The Final Midnight,” the Witch has the final phrase on the topic: “You’re so good. You’re not good, you’re not dangerous, you’re simply good. I’m not good, I’m not good, I’m good.” Whereas it wouldn’t be truthful to say that Sondheim has an overtly feminist agenda, this language acts to emphasise that niceness — as a female trait valued by males within the patriarchal society of those people tales — could nicely restrict the power of ladies to be impartial ethical actors. And being chargeable for one’s ethical selections is of supreme significance to Sondheim in Into the Woods.

Jack (David Merino), Cinderella (Kate Mariko Murray), Little Pink (Alex De Bard), and Rapunzel (Simone Brown) in ‘Into the Woods.’ Images by Daniel Rader besides Cinderella by Christopher Mueller.

As for masculinity, there are the 2 princes (Vincent Kempski and Paul Scanlan), who pair up with Cinderella and Rapunzel respectively. In two variations of “Agony,” they one-up one another’s angst; each phrase or refined motion the 2 actors make emphasizes their fairly ridiculous competitors. Kempski performs each Cinderella’s prince and Little Pink’s Wolf, underlining the parallels between the Wolf’s makes an attempt to seduce Little Pink and the prince’s seduction of Cinderella. In a intelligent contact, Gardiner has the Baker’s Spouse listen in on the primary act model of “Agony,” her evident curiosity foreshadowing her second act encounter with him.

The generally fraught nature of fatherhood is explored within the relationship between the Baker and the Mysterious Man. Motherhood is available in for examination as nicely. The Baker’s Spouse needs it and is keen to compromise her ethical scruples to get it. Jack’s pissed off mom (Sherri L. Edelin, in a standout efficiency) thinks that being childless wouldn’t be such a foul factor. Maria Rizzo, as essentially the most charismatic evil stepmother ever (she’d be somebody to reckon with in a TV actuality present), oozes uncooked ambition for her offspring.

After which there’s the Witch, dysfunctionally protecting of her daughter, Rapunzel. Payton is pleading and anxious with respect to Rapunzel in “Stick with Me” and despairing in “Witch’s Lament,” finally driving her lethal anger in “Final Midnight.” Payton does one thing with that music that I’ve by no means seen earlier than, starting it crooning to the Baker’s child as she holds it, all of the extra menacing for singing the strains quietly. After her transformation, Payton performs her function as a superb however demanding diva, glittery inexperienced gown, ego, and outsize feelings to match.

The narrator (Christopher Bloch) enters the room to start the tales. Removed from being stationed at a lectern, as in some productions, he weaves among the many different characters, brings the birds to Cinderella when she wants them, knocks over Jack’s cow to indicate its loss of life, and generally gathers the ensemble round him for a second of storytime. As performed on this manufacturing, he’s much less outdoors the opposite characters’ tales than the glue that connects them.

The forged of ‘Into the Woods.’ Picture by Daniel Rader.

Bloch additionally performs the Mysterious Man, whose music of remorse and reconciliation with the Baker, “No Extra,” is a quietly emotionally wrenching sequence. Bloch transforms the Narrator into the Mysterious Man easily just by donning a cape and hat and altering his character voice, deliberately blurring the road between the 2 characters and emphasizing {that a} narrator and a father determine are each storytellers whose phrases have penalties. It’s essentially the most profitable model of the twin characters I’ve seen.

Gardiner’s motion work within the ensemble, small group, and solo numbers is impeccable. The almost fixed motion is intricately timed to the music and contours, at all times enhances the characters, and by no means leaves the motion static or the stage unbalanced. In distinction, just a few intentional moments of stillness — “No Extra,” the start of “Kids Will Hear” — achieve all of the extra dramatic energy.

The technical aspect of the manufacturing is equally adept. Amanda Zieve’s detailed lighting design suits the strains, music, and motion like a glove. Eric Norris’ sound design finds a booming spotlight as the large stomps towards, and generally on, the characters. Jon Kalbfleisch’s orchestra was on level all through Sondheim’s complicated rating.

Signature Theatre is justly famend for its Sondheim productions, and this Into the Woods joins its honor roll. It’s an entire theatrical package deal, all the way down to the smallest element, encompassing the deepest feelings of one of many biggest works of the American musical theater.

Operating Time: Two hours 45 minutes, together with one intermission.

Into the Woods performs by January 29, 2003, at Signature Theatre’s
MAX Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA. For tickets ($40–$109), name (703) 820-9771 or buy on-line. Details about ticket reductions is on the market right here.

This manufacturing is suitable for all ages, however Signature doesn’t admit kids underneath 6.

This system for Into the Woods is on-line right here.

Closed captions can be found for each present through the GalaPro app.

COVID Security: By means of November 21, 2022, masks are at all times elective within the foyer and different public areas of the constructing however required whereas contained in the efficiency areas. Starting November 22, 2022, masks are at all times elective within the foyer and different public areas of the constructing. Face masks are required contained in the efficiency areas on Thursdays and Sundays. Face masks are elective contained in the efficiency areas Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Signature’s COVID security plans might be discovered right here.

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