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Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” At St. James Theatre, Saturday, August 20th, 2022, 2pm Matinee, Reviewed

Of the last three Broadway productions of Stephen Sondheim musicals, “Assassins” was off Broadway, it goes like this:

Company – A

Sunday In The Park With George – A

Into The Woods – B+

I know, and yet again the critical hive mind has let us down. Just two weeks ago Beyonce’s wonderful Renaissance – a powerful set of club bangers, was mistaken for Lemonade, received a 92% favorable rating on the critic aggregate Metacritic when he deserved 75%, and the revival of “Into The Woods”, transferring from the Encore Series to Broadway (just like “Chicago” before it), received (according to my hardly scientific research) an 100% favorable rating.


Nothing at all wrong with the music by Sondheim, book by James Lapine, but does it have no flaws? Here is one: “Into The Woods” takes a handful of iconic fairytale characters, throws them together in a midsummer night, makes their wishes come true and gives them their happy endings in the first act and then keeps the wish and takes away the happiness in the second act where very bad things happen. This is a genius idea, or at least it would be if they had tied the wishes to the horrors that befall the characters: for instance, the baker’s wife (as beautifully sung Sara Bareilles) wishes for a baby in the first act and gets one in the second act but having had a baby is not directly tied to her fate. Given the circumstances, the moral of the story is that happiness depends solely on when the story ends, which is hard to deny but not very clever.

If that is a problem with “Into The Woods” structurally, this particular production, directed by Lear deBessonet (where she has cemented her position as a major Broadway player), moves straight from the Encores series (“Tony-honored concert series dedicated to performing rarely heard American musicals, usually with their original orchestrations.”) to the great white way and while the cast are no longer reading directly from the book, they are still not quite a Broadway production: I have no problem with minimalism, but if you are going to perform in front of a fourteen piece orchestra, with no real staging on the stage, lower your prices.

The excuse is that it is a limited run and sure it is, so was “Chicago”, now in its 26th year. The eight week run of “Into The Woods” has already been doubled to 16 weeks, and unless there is a major calamity, is settling in for a long visit. As it should, Act One is nigh on perfect and the second act slows down and gets a little droopy as they overwhelm you with ballads towards the end. The entire ensemble is brilliant, Julia Lester in her Broadway debut as Little Red Riding Hood is a power on, feminist superhero and is excellent on the the evening’s second best song, “I Know Things Now” which packs in the epitaphs and best of all “Nice is different than good” and “even flowers have their dangers”.

Act One is filled with great songs,”Giants In The Sky”with another Broadway newcomer, Cole Thompson as Jack, Brian D’arcy James as the Baker with Sara on showstopper “It Takes Two”, the two Princes on “Agony” Joshua Henry and Gavin Creel and Gavin doubles as the wolf on “Hello Little Girl”, If all of that is text, subtext becomes meta-text in the second act when the moral (children will listen) and the relationship between parents and children are fraught and even the Witch (Tony award winner Patina Miller’s return to Broadway) is left begging her daughter Rapunzel to stay with her.

“Into The Woods” follow lead characters the Baker and wife as they search out ingredients for the witch which will transform the witch to her old beauty and lift a curse on the barren couple. The moral: be careful what you wish for, is a good one. And the performance has the magic that should lead children of a certain age into caring passionately about theatre.

It’s a wonderful, though not Sondheim’s greatest, musical, and a perfect introduction and consolidation for theatre lovers. But it isn’t what hive mind is saying it us.

Grade: B+

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