TheaterHop: Into the Woods
Written by Bwog Staff
Too old for fairly tales, eh? The Columbia Musical Theatre Society presents Into the Woods‘ long, jaunty ride through Mother Goose’s canon. Bwog’s theatre correspondent Ginia Sweeney reviews the play and wonders how much shorter it could’ve been.
I’m going to try to keep this review short because I’ve just had to sit through an absurdly long musical and I don’t want to subject you to the same tedium. Someone should have told Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine that a mash-up of classic fairytales with a few extra plot twists can only sustain an audience’s attention for so long. I’m not sure how long that is, but it’s something less that two hours and forty-five minutes.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. The Columbia Musical Theatre Society has pulled together a rather impressive and large scale production of Into the Woods, and Thursday night’s performance will be followed by two more—at 3 and 8 p.m.—on Friday, in Roone Arledge Auditorium. I have few complaints besides the sheer length of the show.
Into the Woods intertwines four fairytales—Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel—into one winding story where characters are constantly venturing “into the woods” for one reason or another. A narrator (Thomas Anawalt CC’09) is there to help the audience and, frequently, increase the meta-factor of the show with asides like, “as is often the way in these tales…”
To lend coherency to the tale, a baker (played by Michael Snyder CC’10) and his wife (Gilli Messer BC’10) are thrown into the mix. They desire a child but are unable to conceive due to a long standing curse cast by the bitter witch living next door (Jamie Rubenstein BC’10). If they want the curse lifted, the witch says, they must fetch her four artifacts, one from each of the fairytales. So, the two set out into the eponymous woods with their mission.
In the meantime, revisionist fairytales are going on everywhere. Jack, recast as a half-dolt (aptly portrayed by Benjamin Velez CC’10) and his horribly irritating, screechy mother (Becky Greenstein BC’10) are without food and must resort to selling their dry cow—also Jack’s best (and only) friend. Cinderella goes to her mother’s grave rather than her fairy godmother in search of a way into the prince’s festival, and it is her own shame at her social position rather than a midnight time limit that makes her flee from the prince. Rapunzel sings from the top of her tower, and seems to be satisfied with washing and combing her hair all day. Little Red Riding Hood gorges herself on the food she is delivering to her grandmother, and finds herself “scared and excited” about the wolf, in a thinly veiled deflowering scene. Fortunately, the stories used here preserve the Grimm Brothers’ original gore, so you can look forward to a fair amount of blinding by various disgusting methods.
Although the cast is generally talented, the standout performance was by Austin Smith CC’10. As Little Red’s wolf, he prances about the stage in a rather sloppily made costume, simultaneously creepy and seductive. As Cinderella’s prince, he is regal and charming; as he says at the end of the show, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Undoubtedly some of the best scenes in the whole show are between the two princes, Smith and Kieron Cindric CC’08, singing of their lust for various princesses. Smith’s voice is velvety and resonant , and he is utterly comfortable in his role.
There is not enough plot to carry the 1.5 hour first act, which ends with a conclusive happily-ever-after ending, only for the story to be continued—and rather preposterously, at that—with a second, darker act.
Into the Woods is an impressive production for college students with only a few technical glitches. (Poor Jack had to sing a whole song unmiced!) If it had been half the length, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Performances at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Roone Arledge Auditorium. Tickets available at Lerner Box Office.