A lot happens in the first act of Into the Woods. Luckily, most audience members will already be familiar with most of the cast of characters before the show starts. On its own, act one could be considered a complete show, but, then, you come back from intermission and are immediately swept up in twists to the stories you thought you knew.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, Into the Woods tells the story of a Baker and his wife (Mark Price and Courtney Balan) who must complete four tasks for the town’s Witch if they want to have children. In completing their tasks, they meet familiar characters along the way, such as Little Red Riding Hood (Diany Rodriguez), Cinderella (Jill Ginsberg), Jack from “Jack and the Bean Stalk” (Jeremy Wood) and Rapunzel (Jamie Wood Katz).
Walking into the theater, the audience immediately becomes immersed into a dreamlike space. Todd Rosenthal’s lavish set, divided into sections, functions well in staging the various stories that are explored in Into the Woods. Lattice work intertwined with branches above the stage give an enchanted tree house effect to the set. The main part of the stage is a cross-section of a giant tree that covers the orchestra pit bringing the cast closer to the audience while the orchestra sits behind the action on the stage. A magical full moon looms in the background behind the orchestra, but unfortunately, it cannot be seen by the whole audience due to the other design elements.
Lex Liang’s costumes fit nicely with the mystical set especially the Witch whose eerie look is accentuated by earthy features with twig fingers and roots growing from her head to give the appearance of horns. The costumes are a little edgier for some of the characters (Little Red Riding Hood, the Princes) than one might expect, but they are intriguing and show a balance between the characters’ darker sides and the dangers they face.
Unique to this production, the orchestra is composed of a group of talented young musicians, all currently attending various schools in the Atlanta-area, with nine playing at each show. Greeting the opening night crowd, Susan Booth, Alliance Theatre Artistic Director and Director of Into the Woods, describes the challenges of playing Sondheim music and commended the young musicians for their efforts. The cast should also be praised on singing Sondheim’s music because singing it can be equally as tricky; each one excels vocally and a visceral charge is present in each voice.
Price and Balan amaze the audience with each of their numbers. They bring such life and hope to the Baker and his wife that you want them to succeed in their tasks, and, more than any of the other characters, you want them to live happily ever after. Additionally, Angela Robinson is perfect as the Witch; her command of the stage mystifies.
As excellent as they were, Price, Balan and Robinson are upstaged by the two princes. Hayden Tee as Cinderella’s Prince and Corey James Wright as Rapunzel’s Prince provide many comical moments during their scenes, but they stun the audience with their powerful duet in act one, “Agony.” If that wasn’t enough, they turn around and stun again with “Agony Reprise” in act two. Tee and Wright could not have been more perfectly cast.
Although she’s not on stage at the time, Barbara Marineau makes an impression on both the characters and the audience as the voice of the Giant. Thanks to Sound Designer Clay Benning, her booming voice is heard and felt throughout the theater. Even though the giant is never seen, her presence is palpable in the audience.
Whether you like or not, Sondheim’s catchy tunes stick with you and will have you humming them all the next day. The Alliance Theatre’s production of Into the Woods is a top-notch spectacle in all sense of the meaning. From its design elements to its impressive cast, the musical succeeds in casting its spell. The Alliance Theatre’s production of Into the Woods plays through October 2; for tickets and more information please visit www.alliancetheatre.org.
– A. Wesley