This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

12Aug/12

SONDHEIM IN THE PARK: INTO THE WOODS

INTO THE WOODS is given dazzling new life at the Delacorte (photo by Joan Marcus)

Central Park
Delacorte Theater
Extended through September 1, free, 8:00
Family-friendly matinee August 22, 3:00
Tickets available day of show at the box office and online here
shakespeareinthepark.org

The Public Theater’s revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony-winning Into the Woods has made a marvelous transformation to the Delacorte, as if it were the place it was always meant to be performed. Adapted from the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production, the fairy-tale mosh-up, directed by Regent’s artistic director Timothy Sheader with codirection by Liam Steel, has been given a more adult touch, darker and sexier than previous versions. On John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour’s beautiful stage of multiple wooden ladders, walkways, and a tower constructed right into the actual woods of Central Park, a young boy (played alternately by Jack Broderick and Noah Radcliffe) creates the story of a childless couple, the Baker (Tony winner Denis O’Hare) and his wife (Oscar nominee Amy Adams), who are given a chance to have a baby if they collect four items for a wicked witch (Tony winner Donna Murphy): a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. So off they go on an adventure into a magical land populated by such characters as Little Red Ridinghood (Sarah Stiles) and the Wolf (Ivan Hernandez), Cinderella (Tony nominee Jessie Mueller) and a prince (also Hernandez), Rapunzel (Tess Soltau) and her prince (Cooper Grodin), and Jack (Gideon Glick) and his mother (Kristine Zbornik), who are forced to sell their cow because they are in desperate need of money. There’s also a mysterious man (Chip Zien, who played the Baker in the original Broadway production) wandering through the woods, popping up now and again to offer advice. As they strive toward their goal, the Baker and his wife must decide just how far they’re willing to go to have a child, and at what cost.

The Witch (Donna Murphy) and Rapunzel (Tess Soltau) face some surprisingly hard truths in INTO THE WOODS (photo by Joan Marcus)

The first act is an utter delight, highlighted by Stiles’s raunchy turn as Little Red Ridinghood, dressed like a hip skater chick, O’Hare’s self-examination as he considers doing things he never would have imagined, Jack’s cow, a skeletal figure carried around by another actor, and Murphy’s star turn as the Witch, walking with canes in a frightening get-up courtesy of costume designer Emily Rebholz. But things reach another level in the second act, which reveals what happens when happily ever after is not necessarily the end of the story. Such songs as “Into the Woods,” “Hello, Little Girl,” “Stay with Me,” “Witch’s Lament,” and “Your Fault” are brought to life by a live orchestra playing in the back of the fanciful tree house and a stellar cast that is game for just about anything, making the three-hour show breeze by in, well, a breeze. Nominated for ten Tonys and winning three back in 1988 (including Best Score and Best Book), Sondheim and Lapine’s show, which is essentially about the art of storytelling itself, feels as clever and fresh as ever. Rechristened Sondheim in the Park, this wonderful Shakespeare in the Park presentation, part of the Delacorte’s fiftieth anniversary, is everything that free outdoor summer theater should be.

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