Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Staring Justin DeLoach, Brance Cornelius, and Andrea Stack
The Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL
I think they jiggled the stage direction from the last time I saw this show. Instead of a mystical medieval village, we begin the story in a library full of books. Our Narrator (DeLoach) sneaks in; it’s clear he doesn’t have a library card as this collection overwhelms him. The cast appears, acting around him, and we are off on Steve Sondheim’s most challenging work. A half dozen fairy tales interact with one another: The Baker (Cornelius) and his Wife (Stack) yearn for a child. Rapunzel (Aja Grooms) grooms her hair in a castle waiting for her prince (Connor Padilla) as Little Red Ridinghood (Sharon Yost) heads off to grannies house. Dim-witted Jack (Sage Starkey) trades a cow for magic beans, driving his mother (Candy Heller) to fairy tale distraction. There’s witch (Shannon Bilo) motivating the story, and a Mysterious Stranger (Stephen Pugh) explaining life to The Baker. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few threads here, but action leads to reactions, and the results of all these shenanigans is an unwelcome giant attack and a long dissertation on how we are responsible for our actions, even if we meant well.
That’s a big story to put into this small set, but it’s full of nooks and crannies and hyper dimensional storage space and it always feels intimate and never cluttered. DeLoach is a young man with a small voice; he seems pleasantly lost in the action. Ms. Heller is a strong presence even if she can’t get her boy to think clearly. The twin princes Padilla and Rob stack have a lot of bounce in their step, and Stack is a darn scary Wolf when needed. The principle agony arises between The Baker and his Wife. They are constantly full of remorse and finger pointing and raise the question: You THINK you want kids, but do you really?
With a drop dead set and over a dozen of the best voices in town, this is a spectacle worth the trip out west even if the music is challenging. A few tunes stood out: “Agony,” “Last Midnight,” and “It Takes Two” all have little checkmarks in my program but none really pop into mind. The one thing that does stick in my mind is the odd Mysterious Man. Mr. Pugh plays him as a surreal object, and he never seems completely human on this stage. He’s the one person that retains the ideal of a story with a happy ending in this stage filled with reality based results. More than any other musical, “Into the Woods” takes reality, shifts it into a dream world, and then drops the floor out from under the dreams leaving the actors in the same dilemmas we entered the theater with. It’s schadenfreude, with better dancing.
For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org