On Tuesday evening, I got the chance to see the Public Theater’s production of Into the Woods as part of the Shakespeare in the Park summer series. Yes, Into the Woods is not Shakespeare, but for their 50th anniversary, it was deemed that they would perform As You Like It and then Into the Woods to mix it up a little bit. I was, naturally, immediately excited. I adore Into the Woods; it was my first musical. So it was that I found myself waiting on line for tickets at 7 a.m. on Tuesday for opening night tickets.
Now, a small disclaimer. Into the Woods is my favorite musical, so there’s a very good chance it could’ve been terrible and I still would have enjoyed it. And I did, in fact, enjoy it. I don’t think any other performance of Into the Woods will ever hold a candle to the original production that I saw when I was just seven years old (it was a birthday present), but it was positively better than the revival I saw starring Vanessa Williams.
The Baker, Jack and Milky White (the cow)
Right off the bat I have to make a comment about the set. First of all, Into the Woods was made to be performed outdoors. This production was based on a very successful 2010 production in London, which I actually got to watch on the internet. The set looked more or less the same. It was a leveled treehouse of sorts that the actors went up and down throughout the entire performance. Adding to the set, though this was not something within anyone’s artistic control; it was a breezy summer night, and it added to the effect of the characters being outside in the middle of a forest, particularly for the darker second act.
Much of the cast was made up of Broadway and Public Theater veterans, including Chip Zien who played the Baker in the original. Here he played the Mysterious Man, essentially now playing his own father (for those who are unfamiliar with the show, the Mysterious Man turns out to be the Baker’s father, who he believed to have died in a baking accident). Joining the cast were Amy Adams as the Baker’s Wife (in a gigantic crazy wig) and Donna Murphy as the Witch. Both were able to hold their own. Adams is adorable as the Baker’s Wife, and she handled the Sondheim well. Murphy seemed to have a few issues (at one point she was coughing right before one her big solos, but she powered through and pulled it off, perhaps not at full belting power, but it worked).
The Baker and Baker’s Wife, The Witch
The rest of the cast was delightful as well. I had my doubts about the Baker when the show first began, as he seemed to be singing off-key, but I THINK this was a characterization choice; his voice got stronger as his character did. And, hey, if it wasn’t, I read it as such so no harm done there! Cinderella was very good, and one of the few people whose voice I preferred to the original. (In the imaginary world where I perform on stage, Cinderella is one of my dream parts; I love “Steps of the Palace.”)
For this production, as with the London, the narrator was a young boy who runs away from home, instead of a older man. I actually love this choice. It is entirely believable that the whole story is through the lens of the child’s imagination. Throughout the first act and through much of the second, he is running around unseen amongst the characters. They don’t pay him any mind, as I believe they are existing in his imagination. At the end of the first act, the young boy falls asleep to the side of the stage in a sleeping bag. As the second act begins, he is walking around again, but there is very clearly someone still in the sleeping bag. I chose to interpret this as his dream. He has happily ended the characters’ stories before falling asleep, and then the darker side takes place in his dream. This is why he is killed off and then able to appear at the end, and also why the characters are suddenly able to see him, as though this game he was playing was turned into a nightmare. Then at the end, his father (incidentally the Baker in his imagination/dream) finds him.
Admittedly, there were a few mistakes, being as it was opening night and the previous night’s performance had to be cancelled due to weather (and a lot of rehearsals were either rained out or ‘sweltered’ out since it’s been so hot here). A few were noticeable to all, I’m sure, but a lot of them would probably only be noticed if you were a die-hard Into the Woods fan like I am (I’m talking one little word here and there). But all in all, for opening night, I thought the actors did a nice job. I’m sure as the production continues and they find their grooves with the characters, it’ll only get better and better.
I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t discuss the costumes, and I’m sure someone would think that I was absolutely crazy, since I talk about costumes all the time, and costuming Into the Woods would be my dream job. I was so excited to see the costumes. As I mentioned, I had seen the London production, so I knew going in that the costumes would not be your traditional fairy tale garb. For this production, the costumes were done by Emily Rebholz, and I hardly know how to describe them. They were definitely a modern interpretation of fairy tales clothes, with some throwbacks. For example, the Baker and his Wife looked more or less how I always picture them. They are dressed like peasants. Cinderella, before she becomes the princess, wears a basic plaid dress and then modern Converse shoes. Little Red Ridinghood has a red jacket on, and a helmet acts as the cape. Otherwise she is dressed as a quirky kid at play in overalls and boots.
The only character who seemed slightly out of place costume-wise was the Witch, post transformation. Though the green, flowing dress Donna Murphy wore was beautiful, I couldn’t quite figure out it’s connection, however subtle, to the rest of the group. It was also relatively normal, meaning there wasn’t a quirk to be had. But as I write this, I realize that perhaps that’s the point. She’s not really supposed to be connected to the rest of the characters, at least not in a sympathetic way. The Witch is on the outside, even when she looks more like the rest of the characters.
I wish I could’ve found more than the two pictures included above. Perhaps as the run continues, more pictures will be published and I’ll be able to do a more thorough costume analysis. There was so much to see and so much to discuss that I feel like if I try now I’ll leave something out.
So, in the end, my question is: When can I see it again?? I definitely want to catch it at least one more time before I go away (for it will be closed when I get back…).
Stay tuned – early next week I’m going to post a paper I wrote in graduate school that analyzes the psychosis of Into the Woods. I just think that it has some of the most beautiful and profound lyrics – ever.