Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Into the Woods
The plot focuses on familiar fairy tale characters, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk," and intertwines their stories with a new one that Lapine and Sondheim created about a childless Baker, his wife, and the witch who lives next door. The witch placed a curse on the Baker because his father stole from her garden but she tells the couple how they can reverse the curse by going into the woods to collect four items. As the story unfolds, the Baker and his wife, and the audience, quickly realize that those items are all related to the other characters and they all must work together to overcome the obstacles in their lives and have their dreams fulfilled. However, sometimes you have to be careful of what you wish.
Sondheim's score and Lapine's book are exceptional and they both received Tony Awards for their efforts. The book skillfully interweaves all of the characters into a cohesive story, with Sondheim's lyrics perfectly describing each character's inner feelings as well as many songs that advance the plot and depict the connections they have with each other. The themes in the show are ones that anyone of any age can relate to, and it's interesting seeing a show like Into the Woods multiple times over a period and realizing how it impacts you differently depending on how old you are. There is a wide range of characters, from parents and children to siblings, lovers and friends. The ones young theatregoers may connect with are the dreamy and childlike Jack or Little Red, while older audience members may be drawn more to the adult wishes and dreams of the Baker and his Wife, or even the Witch. The characters wishing for more in their lives is something almost anyone can relate to, which makes the show still entirely relevant 35 years after it first premiered on Broadway.
This cast, under Kate Leonard's sharp direction, deliver rich portrayals and navigate well through both the comedic and the dramatic requirements of the show. As Cinderella, Saylem duPont has a singing voice with perfect diction and clarity. Liam Boyd and Maggie Barry as the Baker and the Baker's Wife, respectively, make a winning duo. Barry's good comedic timing and perfect facial expressions work beautifully for her conflicted solo "Moments in the Wood" and Boyd brings a strong conviction to the Baker. As the Witch, Jazmin Noel Moehring has a wonderful stage presence and powerful singing voice that make the character an audience favorite; her delivery of "Last Midnight" at the performance I attended received an extended ovation from the audience.
With an exuberance that works well for the energetic Jack, Roosevelt Tre Moore is a knockout. This is his first year at ASU and I look forward to see what he'll do next. Jena Allen is appropriately sweet but also very sarcastic as Little Red. Josh Pike and Matt Griesgraber are wonderfully droll, with affected accents and gestures, as Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince. Desmond Woodward does double work as the Narrator and the Mysterious Man and manages to make each character unique. Carlie Beckert is lovely as Jack's Mother, with a singing voice that is pure and strong. As Rapunzel, Bri Sieminski adds some nice humor and her singing voice is lovely. Aydan Bruce has fun as Cinderella's Stepmother, and Lauren Carroll and Gabrielle Gernon are a hoot as the Stepsisters. Alicia Werner, Matt Villar, and Shaul Leket-Mor round out the cast in featured parts, along with Ericca Rose and Charlie Green in cameo roles.
Leonard's direction is good, with fun use of the child-like playground set by Dane Burk that incorporates swings and a slide in the action. Brent Mauldin's music direction achieves lovely notes from the cast and large orchestra and Sara Bruton's choreography is simple but good. However, there are a couple of times when the choreography and the use of the swings and other playground elements distracts from the intricacy of Sondheim's lyrics; "It Takes Two" and "Agony" are two examples where having less action on the stage would be beneficial. Leonard does make great use of three planks that come out from the houses where the main characters live, over the orchestra pit and right up to the first row of seats, to incorporate some wonderful movement and give the sense of the characters moving through the woods and from one home to the next. William Kirkham's lighting is gorgeous and Maci Hosler's costumes are character specific, with the exception of the Baker who looks more like a lumberjack than a man who spends his time baking bread.
Into the Woods is an excellent musical and even with a few small quibbles, ASU Music Theatre and Opera's production is wonderful.
Into the Woods runs through April 23, 2023, at Arizona State University Music Theatre and Opera, with performances at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre in the ASU School of Music, 50 E. Gammage Pkwy, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit music.asu.edu/events/music-theatre-and-opera.
Director: Kate Leonard