Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed & staged by Spiro Veloudos
Music directed by Catherine Stornetta
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston) Into the Woods is a tough nut to crack. On the one hand, it’s a classic and butts will fill seats faster than Satan fills a church on Sunday. On the other, it’s a classic and everyone who loves this show will have an opinion that they swear it’s the only legit one because they saw that Broadway performance that one time… on DVD. The Lyric Stage Co’s production is good but not good enough to silence the naysayers (the lines to the bathrooms were all atwitter with sarcasm). The audience community of Boston is protective of their favorite shows. This one falls under the blanket of shows that the community will fight for to the death (of their subscription).
Fairy tales inform (and are informed by) human instinct, belief and habit. They are how we communicate acceptable and unacceptable behavior through the generations without incurring tedium: truth disguised by appetizing fiction. To sum up, Into the Woods is about adult themes (sex). And it’s wrapped in a tidy package of metaphor, symbolism and tropes. (You don’t think the Wolf literally *ate* Little Red, do you?) Director Spiro Veloudos captures the sexual under- and overtones that most family-oriented productions blatantly ignore. For that reason, the Lyric website includes this disclaimer for patrons:
“Note for Parents:Into the Woods contains some violence, death, and frightening moments, so it may not be appropriate for young children. The first act of the show is lighter in tone than the second. In general we feel that the show is appropriate for children ages 10+, but parents should use their own discretion as they know their children and their sensitivities and maturity levels best. Please note that children under the age of 5 are not allowed to attend Lyric Stage mainstage performances.”
The orchestra lead by Catherine Stornetta is a force of nature. The music is an invisible leading role that establishes the emotional tenor of the show and defines the temperament of the Woods. Unfortunately, few of the actors embraced the music as a dramatic element. Erica Spyres (Cinderella), Gregory Balla (Jack) and John Ambrosino (The Baker), Will McGarrahan (Narrator/Mysterious Man) interacted with the music as its nuances informed the performance. Ambrosino’s performance stood out in particular for the frustrated humanity he gives the Baker.
A note: while the performance by Will McGarrahan is excellent, it appears that the majority of the roles he commits to these days are a variation on the same tongue-in-cheek guy. It would be nice to see Mr. McGarrahan play someone/thing with more depth. He is selling himself short.
The costume design by Elisabetta Polito is simply stunning. From the polished hair color to the Victorian influence with contemporary fashion design edge, all of the costumes were engineered with character personality in mind. Were one to mute the performance, it would still be arresting.
The presentation of the blinded stepsisters (Christina English & Elise Arsenault*) as a disabled stereotype was in poor taste. The blind aren’t funny because they are blind. We, the disabled can be funny, but we aren’t inherently so because we are different. Dressing up the actors to get a laugh from the audience is cheap.
The talented cast is clearly having a good time with their performances and put every effort into creating a fantastic show. We should not blame them for the baggage we, the audience, bring into the theater. The best course of action is to leave one’s suppositions at home, relax and enjoy this delightful piece of theatre on its own merit.
*Let it be known that this reviewer does not blame the actresses for this. It is almost never left up to the actors to make this sort of decision.