Nothing makes you want to get cozy with a good story like the feeling the chill of winter in the air. It’s just so fun to escape the cold and dwell in a world of dreams. You may think that you know the story of Cinderella. You may even think that you know the musical Into the Woods, but if you haven’t seen Fiasco Theater’s Production of Into the Woods, then you’re missing out on a true storytelling treat.
Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine is a familiar classic to any musical theater lover. If you’re unfamiliar with this famous work, just know that it takes classic fairy tale characters like Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood and looks at that them with a bit of a twist to their stories. You’ll also fall in love with new characters such as a childless baker and his wife. The music is memorable, you won’t be able to stop singing the lyrics for days and you find little lessons tucked away throughout the script.
The Fiasco Theater brings new energy and new discoveries to Into the Woods through their creative staging. In a way that is most minimalist and occasionally extravagant, the cast tells the familiar stories with a tongue-in-cheek, yet also heartfelt quality. Every detail from a superbly talented actor playing the cow Milky White, to the delicate paper birds and Cinderella’s magnificent ball gown transport the audience into another world. These talented actors also form the orchestra and their switching between acting, playing instruments and feeling like spectators adds to the festive air. You almost get a feel for what people must have felt 500 hundred years ago when a troupe of players rolled into town.
In order to tell any story well, it must be well performed and this production of Into the Woods is certainly full of great performances. Laurie Veldheer is the most perfect version of Cinderella that I’ve ever seen, full of lovely hope and beautiful sadness. When she sang “No One Is Alone,” I actually sobbed, as did others nearby, because of the poignancy she added to this lovely song. Phillipe Arroyo played an energetic yet downtrodden Jack that truly made me love the character, as I never had before. Lisa Helmi Johanson is both adorably plucky as Little Red Ridinghood and a heart-breaking Rapunzel. I was disappointed that I didn’t feel more connection between Eleasha Gamble as the Baker’s Wife and Evan Harrington as the Baker. Vanessa Reseland’s performance as the Witch was very forced and it truly seemed as though she shout every line she said and continually shouting just makes the hearer lose interest.
Many people believe that when Christmas celebrations or even gifts themselves are homemade they carry more meaning. I believe that this idea holds true to this production of Into the Woods, where the act of making something more precious, more handcrafted, gives deeper meaning to the stories and lessons.
Plus, I will never hear the name Milky White again without wanting to scream “MOO” a la Darrick Pead.
Kari Liked: Cinderella, Jack and Little Red stole the show!
Kari Didn’t Like: I was a little disappointed by the Baker, the Baker’s Wife and the Witch.
Right now, The Fiasco Theater Production of Into the Woods is at the Kennedy Center, and what a show it is. The unique concept is a restaging of the Sondheim classic to feature only 10 players, a limited change of costumes and props, and a piano, with some other instruments being played by actors that aren’t actively engaged in the show at that moment.
It’s really stunning. It’s funny and intriguing in ways that the original isn’t, (which is saying a lot) and by and large still keeps the spirit of the original intact.
Their unique take allowed for some really neat moments with some characters that are easy to gloss over like Wolf, the stepsisters, and even Milky White. Milky White, who is normally a prop, is played remarkably by Darick Pead and steals every scene he is in. Pead is also great in his other roles, as is everyone who performed multiple roles. There were times, even with the limited costumes, that I found it difficult to realize some of the parts were played by the same people, especially Lisa Helmi Johanson who is amazing as both Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Laurie Veldheer was also a joy to watch as Cinderella.
Fiasco Theater’s changes were very interesting. I loved their interaction with the audience before the acts. The orchestrations were really a joy, and in many cases completely changed the mood of the situation. They suck you in so much, that the moments when everyone is “on stage” and the only music is provided by the piano are really intense. Sometimes things can get a little too intense, as I found their rendition of “Stay With Me” sung by Lisa Helmi Johanson and Vanessa Reseland to feel a little too abusive when dealing with the relationship between Witch and Rapunzel.
As the end of the show approaches, just when you think that Fiasco has played all their creative cards and what’s left is a straightforward ending, they throw one last trick at you that will amaze you. It comes in the form of the most active fight with the Giant’s Wife that has ever been presented on stage or screen. That’s right, their striped down version is actually more representative than even the movie.
I could talk all day about how much I enjoyed this production of Into the Woods. While there were some small problems, I really loved watching it and was very sad when it was over.
RJ Liked: Milky White was my favorite
RJ Didn’t Like: “Stay With Me”
Into the Woods is currently playing at the Kennedy Center through December 8th, for more information and to get tickets, click here.
(We received complimentary media tickets for this performance, however all opinions are our own.)