Theater Review: INTO THE WOODS (Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 27, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


Somewhere between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After” there is a very adult world of tests, losses, disappointments, and grief. Despite this, we assert our agency; or as a baker’s wife sings in Into the Woods, “If you know what you want, then you go and you find it, and you get it.” The challenges and complications of getting what you want, or what you thought you wanted, are at the heart of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s rightfully popular musical, which opened last night at the Hollywood Bowl with a cast richer in talent than Midas was in gold.

In Act I, the Baker and his Wife (Skylar Astin and the redoubtable Sutton Foster) search for four objects necessary to break a witch’s curse, but then Sondheim and Lapine mash-up a slew of well-known fairy tales to tell a delightful, brand-new story, utilizing over 25 intertwining characters — including Cinderella (Sierra Boggess, never sounding lovelier), Red Riding Hood (emotionally strong Shanice Williams), Jack of Beanstalk fame (Gaten Matarazzo), a witch (Patina Miller), and Rapunzel (silver-voiced Hailey Kilgore) — as they search for their desires among the darkness of gnarled trees. In the second act, wishes are fulfilled, but happiness remains elusive, as the quickly diminishing leftover characters increasingly realize that actions have consequences, even — or particularly — when the action is getting what you want. The creators caution us to beware of what we wish for — once happy endings arrive, there will be consequences for what we had to do to get there.

When I saw the original production in 1986 at The Globe, and two years later on Broadway, audiences didn’t seem to gibe with that bitter-tasting reality in Act II, yet the huge audience at the Bowl was starkly quiet and attentive — after all, with climate change and stunted politics and over-consuming, the human race is suddenly up against the seriousness of its consequences even as the sales of SUVs has increased.

Those who have never seen this musical before can easily become confused as stories crisscross paths, especially in overblown revivals. While the show demands a more intimate space than the Bowl — made even more obvious by a few perfectly cast actors pushing more than necessary for meaning or a laugh — director and choreographer Robert Longbottom makes the goings on crystal clear.

Not normally associated with standards, Sondheim wrote some of his best standalone songs, including “No One is Alone” and “Children Will Listen.” His tricky lyrics, many of them filled with significant exposition, fly by with the speed of a witch’s broom. Fortunately, Music Director Kevin Stites — situated behind the playing area with the awesome orchestra — ensured that we went into the words perfectly.

With an ensemble like this, it would be a miracle if one stood out. Yet that’s precisely what happened. Cheyenne Jackson plays Cinderella’s Prince with a rich, organic performance full of textured nuances and brilliant comic timing (his duet of “Agony” with Chris Carmack as Rapunzel’s Prince was a highlight).

Even though this three-night run forces us to often watch giant screens instead of the stage (and my screen was blocked from view), I would definitely go into these woods again. Don’t miss it.

photos by Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging

Into the Woods
The Hollywood Bowl
ends on July 28, 2019
for tickets, visit Hollywood Bowl

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