By Tulis Mccall

“Into the Woods” is a story where nothing is at it seems. And THAT is just fine with me.

From the moment the curtain rises and the love explodes into the audience, you know you have handed over the reins, and all that is left is to sit back and enjoy the ride.

In addition to being deceptive, “Into The Woods” is also two stories.

First story is all about wishes.  About yearning.  About all the seekers and searchers and the situations and the things for which they yearn.

Second story is about these same people who got what they wished for and then some.  In exchange for every wish someone or something will be sacrificed.  These stories are about truth, not happily ever after.

“Into The Woods” is a bucket of parables.  It is straight out of Ram Dass.  Or Pema Chodrin.  Or the Dalai Lama.

“If you know what you want, then you go and you find it and you get it.”

“The prettier the flower, the father from the path.”

“Every knot was once straight rope.”

“Careful the wish you make.  Wishes are children. Careful the path they take – wishes come true, not free.”

The woods are required reading for these characters.  They are part of each character’s life syllabus.  Try to avoid the woods and you will not only delay your departure, you will delay your arrival.  You cannot go around.  You must go through.  Is is a case of “The obstacle IS the path.”

This version of “Into the Woods” is a transfer from the Encores! presentation that ran for less than 2 weeks in May at City Center.  A few of the cast members are new and the scripts they all carried have been eliminated.  The orchestra is onstage (As opposed to being banished to the underworld as is the case in many a Broadway show) and there is no cumbersome set.  Only set pieces which serve the story.  Tree trunks of course. Tables and chairs, a harp, a golden egg.  Costumes are minimal. The absence of so much leaves the actors to carry the weight of the story, and carry it they do.

Under the direction Lear deBessonet this is a quick, nimble, telling of the tale.  Subtlety has been tossed out with the bath water.  For the most part this direct approach works, with the exception of Patina Miller’s performance as the witch that felt heavy handed.  The rest of the cast is delicious.  Phillipa Soo HAS a funny bone.  Ditto Sarah BareillesBrian d’Arcy James gets to strut his tenor.  Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry are dumbest most wonderful of suitors. Julia Lester is a trickster Red Riding Hood.  And Cole Thompson will break your heart singing about giants.  Milky White, the cow, was brought to live brilliantly by the puppeteer Cameron Johnson the night I saw the show.

And of course there is Sondheim’s gorgeous songs that will make your heart burst.  Guaranteed.

Whatever Sondheim and Lapine were smoking – it was the good stuff. “Into The Woods” is a spectacular dose of joy. And we can ALL use that right about now can we not?

INTO THE WOODS – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine, Directed By Lear deBessonet, Featuring The Encores! Orchestra with Music Director Rob Berman, Choreographed By Lorin Latarro

Sara Bareilles as the Baker’s Wife, Brian d’Arcy James as the Baker, Tony Award® winner Patina Miller as the Witch, Phillipa Soo as Cinderella, Tony Award winner Gavin Creel as the Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince, Joshua Henry as Rapunzel’s Prince, Aymee Garcia as Jack’s Mother, Ta’Nika Gibson as Lucinda, Annie Golden as Cinderella’s Mother/Grandmother/Giant’s Wife, Albert Guerzon as Cinderella’s Father, Brooke Ishibashi as Florinda, Kennedy Kanagawa as Milky White, David Patrick Kelly as the Narrator/Mysterious Man, Julia Lester as Little Red Riding Hood, Nancy Opel as Cinderella’s Stepmother, Cole Thompson as Jack, David Turner as the Steward, 

Alysia Velez as Rapunzel. With Delphi Borich, Felicia Curry, Jason Forbach, Alex Joseph Grayson, Cameron Johnson, Paul Kreppel, Mary Kate Moore, Diane Phelan, and Lucia Spina as understudies. 

Creative: David Rockwell (Scenic Design), Andrea Hood (Costume Design), Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer & Alex Neumann (Co-Sound Designers), James Ortiz (Puppet Design), and Cookie Jordan (Hair, Wigs & Makeup Design).