Lovely, dark, and deep

Good theater enters the Woods
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  October 25, 2006

POOR JACK: He needs beans.
Everyone’s tale winds up among the trees in Good Theater’s enchanting and absolutely virtuoso production of Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s clever musical elaboration upon our favorite fairy tales, seamlessly directed by Brian Allen at the St. Lawrence.

We’re already familiar with most of the characters’ personal quests: Cinderella (Kelly Caufield, with girl-next-door candor) would like to get out and do some waltzing. The not-so-bright Jack (an amusingly vacuous William Broyles) needs to get a good return on his and his mom’s ailing cow. Rapunzel (Jennifer McLeod, with an ethereal voice) wouldn’t mind a peek at the scene outside her tower. Little Red Ridinghood (the keen young Haley Bennett) just wants to make it to Granny’s without attracting any undue attention from the “scrumptious carnality”-seeking Wolf (Graham Allen, in a David Bowie wig). Then there’s the childless baker and his wife (the well-paired Timothy Bate and Jen Means) who, as it turns out, have long been punished by the curse of the Witch next door (Amy Roche, spectacularly), for having helped themselves to her garden greens. There’s hope for the young couple’s baby fantasies, but first they have to secure a scavenger hunt’s worth of riddly items, the search for which brings them into the company of their fairy-tale peers.

That’s chapter one, and we all know how it ends up for everybody: happily. But don’t stroll complacently back out onto Congress Street after the first act — there are actually a lot more ins and outs to the “ever after.” Everything isn’t all honeysuckle and doughnuts on the marital and maternal fronts, and as if domestic discord weren’t enough, there also happens to be an angry, widowed beanstalk giant sulking around and picking people off. The diminished crew of fairy-tale folks thus starts to resemble the plucky band of survivors in Stephen King’s The Stand, making the tough choices.

Although its premise is delightfully, sharply simple, from a technical standpoint Into the Woods is no walk through the larches. But Good Theater is by now well known for its unparalleled virtuosity, and this production is no exception: Under the direction of Allen and musical director Aaron Robinson, this cast carries off seemingly effortless executions of the script and score’s intimidating demands, which include some stupefyingly quick timing in vocals and blocking.

Good Theater’s gifted actors are also impeccably cast and gorgeously costumed. This production has a remarkable feel of unity among its actors; every single character is fully, dazzlingly inhabited — from the angular yearnings and uncertainties of Bate’s and Means’s baker couple, to Broyles’s subtly hilarious, dim-witted Jack. Fourteen-year-old Haley Bennett, as Red Ridinghood, is impressively sharp and savvy around her character’s more sardonic edges, and Cinderella’s step-trinity (Karen Stickney, Kristen Thomas, and Jessica Peck) is a shrill flurry of finery and righteousness. A few deserve special mention: McLeod’s Rapunzel and Caulfield’s Cinderella are absolutely dulcet, and Bate also has an unusually warm and expressive voice. And in the plum role of the Witch — by turns comic, Mae-Westy, and wracked with yearning — Amy Roche is magnificent, her performance a sly and decadent delight that’s now a cackly staccato, now filled with lusty bravado, and finally slows to something cool, minor, and dark.

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