Arts Editor Riva Weinstein attended the Thursday night performance of CMTS’ Into The Woods (dir. Anna Moskowitz, BC ’19), by Stephen Sondheim. The verdict: a well-acted and impressively coordinated show, if you have the stamina to sit for two and a half hours of it.
At the center of the stage, a man in a long coat and glasses perches nervously, encircled by children’s books. While the audience files in, he picks up the books and reads from them one by one: a terrible witch, a prince who wanted to be a rooster… As the lights go down, he comes to the last book, with a black tree on the cover. The title: Into the Woods.
The moment that the narrator, Callum Kiser (CC ’21), begins his story, the stage explodes into action. Actors leap seamlessly in and out of the melody, swirling around the stage, shifting props and rapidly changing costumes. Each of our fairy-tale protagonists has a wish: Cinderella (India Beer, BC ’20) wishes to go to the ball; the Baker (Jacob Iglitzin, CC ’19) and his wife (Emma Smith, BC ’19) wish for a child; Jack (Tom Phelan, CC ’20) and his mother (Eliza Ducnuigeen, BC ’21) wish their cow would produce some milk; and Red Riding Hood (Erin Hilgartner, CC ’21) wishes to visit her grandmother (Sarah Hilligloss, BC ’21)… or, at least, uses it as a pretense for nabbing some food from the bakers’ house.
Hardly has Red Riding Hood gone on her way that a Witch (Eloise Bagnara, BC), the bakers’ neighbor, appears at their door. She reveals that she is responsible for making the Baker’s Wife barren – but the curse can be undone. Within three midnights, the couple must bring her four items: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold.
What follows is a frantic adventure through the woods as the two bakers try to recover Jack’s cow, Red Riding Hood’s cape, Rapunzel’s (Elisabeth Siegel, GS/JTS ’18) hair, and Cinderella’s slipper. The always-hilarious Erin Hilgartner stands out in Act 1 as the cheeky Red Riding Hood, and Phelan’s passion and playfulness as giant-killing Jack is hard to resist. After a great deal of fuss, the Baker and his wife gather all four items, and the Baker’s Wife becomes pregnant. Cinderella gets her prince (Gus O’Connor, CC ’20), and Rapunzel weds his brother (Adam Glusker, CC ’21). All is well… for now.
Act 2 is where everything goes wrong. The giant’s wife comes down from the sky to seek revenge for the death of her husband, destroying everything in her path. With their straightforward fairy-tale narrative in shambles, and the Narrator himself dead, the characters enter a free-for-all world of grey morality, betrayal, and irredeemable mistakes. Iglitzin’s and Smith’s powerful voices enraptured the crowd with “Moments in the Woods” and “No More” respectively – struggling not only against the pain of their circumstances, but the constraints of their narrative itself. While Bagnara’s acting perhaps fell short of my hopes for my favorite character, the Witch, her rendition of “Last Midnight” still put chills up and down my spine.
Sondheim’s music is full of complex harmonies and razor-narrow timing, and Into The Woods – a predominantly sung-through musical – is no exception. The musical and directorial timing was so perfect, I could count on one hand the number of times actors were out of step with the pit, which was also highly skilled. Unfortunately, the extremely complex and text-heavy plot of Into The Woods left very little room for improvisation. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the show’s choreography and staging. Had the director-dramaturg team chosen to cut down the two-and-a-half hour musical, they might have had the opportunity for more creativity.
The most successful set and lighting decision was a sheet of fabric hung at the back of the stage, which was projected with backgrounds, and which actors could move behind to produce fascinating shadows. The ghost of Cinderella’s mother floating behind the screen was one of the most beautiful images in the show. Sadly, the designers could not seem to coordinate on an aesthetic for Into The Woods: The modern costumes rankled against props which suggested a children’s puppet show, and bizarre, industrial-looking pieces, including a cow constructed of PVC pipe and chicken wire.
Given the constraints of Sondheim’s complex musical and the space of the GMT, CMTS’ Into the Woods was a very well-done show. I would not call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but for those of you who are willing to head into the woods and home long, long after dark, it’s more than worth a watch.
You can see Into The Woods in the Glicker-Milstein Theater at 8 PM on Friday and at 2 PM and 8 PM on Sunday. Tickets are sold out, so get there about an hour early to put your name on the waitlist.
Photo via CMTS Presents: Into The Woods