Into the Woods OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Sara Krulwich
  • NY TIMES

  • VULTURE

  • TM

Opening Night:
January 22, 2015
Closing:
April 12, 2015

Theater: Laura Pels Theatre / 111 West 46th Street, New York, NY, 10036

Synopsis: 

With only 10 actors, one piano and boundless imagination, this witty and wildly theatrical re-invention is Into the Woods like you’ve never seen it before! Mind the wolf, heed the witch and honor the giant in the sky at this extraordinary musical about the power of wishes and what really happens after they come true.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF Into the Woods

    Fewer Trees in a Fairy-Tale Forest

    Ben Brantley

    January 22, 2015: These are the woods that you want to get lost in, a place you’ll find buried treasures that you didn’t even know existed. Fiasco Theater’s truly enchanting production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, which opened on Thursday night at the Laura Pels Theater, makes the best case ever for a musical that interpreters have been trying to get right since the show was first staged in the mid-1980s. Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, but obviously the product of a fully collaborative troupe, this Into the Woods reminds us that it takes a village to give myths enduring life. The particular myths under consideration here are ones you’ve known since before you could read, involving archetypes like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and the beanstalk-climbing Jack. And Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Lapine’s reimagining of these fantasies have received so much exposure of late, that just mentioning Into the Woods makes eyes glaze over. The show has received three major New York productions (the last in Central Park, only two and half years ago), and is the basis for the current, starry Disney movie, which has the virtue of not being nearly as bad as many predicted it would be. But as any child with strong preferences in bedtime readers understands, tellers count as much as tales do. And you need to feel that those tellers, like all great fabulists, trust in what they’re saying. No narrative tool is more infectious than belief. Such faith, of course, is a central dynamic in fairy stories, as it is in self-help books and inspirational fiction. So it might seem odd to apply the “only believe” principle to an artist as notoriously skeptical and ambivalent as Mr. Sondheim.

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  • VULTURE REVIEW OF Into the Woods

    Into the Newest Into the Woods

    Jesse Green

    January 22, 2015: By the standards of the Golden Age, when musicals with a cast of 60 and an orchestra of 40 were common, Into the Woods is not a huge show. Its 1987 Broadway premiere featured just 19 actors in 23 roles, with 15 musicians in the pit. The second collaboration of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (the first was Sunday in the Park With George) is nevertheless huge in most other respects. Lapine’s fairy-tale-mash-up book covers a ton of plot, some of it so dense that even after dozens of viewings in as many versions I’m not sure I’ve got it all. (Especially the beans.) Then there’s Sondheim’s score, which for convenience is generally listed as some two dozen numbers, but is really a nearly continuous stream of more than 70 cues, many including avalanches of the cleverest, trickiest words ever corralled into song. And the ideas are big, too, ranging freely among considerations of fate and free will; responsibility to self and society; weak goodness and strong evil; perspective and relativism; good parenting and being a good child. In short, Into the Woods not only features a giant but is one. You would not think anything less than the most generous payroll, the most seasoned performers, and the most elaborate staging — talking birds! transforming witches! — could support such an enterprise. But you would be wrong. Into the Woods is built like a Victorian curio, with gears of solid gold. I have seen it work beautifully with adolescents in high schools (the cast supplemented to include dozens of fairy-tale figures not actually in the script) and on Broadway with stars and on film with Meryl Streep. And now, with the Fiasco Theater’s production at the Roundabout, first staged in 2013 at the McCarter Theatre, I have seen it work in perhaps the most surprising reconfiguration yet: a radical downsizing. Ten actors (most of them double- and triple-cast) cover all of the roles, occasionally playing an instrument as well; otherwise a single pianist (Matt Castle) accompanies the whole thing. There are no stars, there is no pit, and there are no special effects that would not be available even to kids playing in the attic.

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  • THEATERMANIA REVIEW OF Into the Woods

    Fiasco Theater undresses Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy tale musical

    Hayley Levitt

    January 22, 2015: In just the past few years, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy tale-infused musical Into the Woods has gotten several full-body makeovers. In 2012, Shakespeare in the Park turned the Grimm characters into playthings from a toy chest, while this past Christmas Rob Marshall got a blockbuster (star-studded) Disney film out of the property with a CGI-facilitated gothic aesthetic. Fiasco Theater now brings its own concept to the table at Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre, reprising the troupe's acclaimed 2013 McCarter Theatre production. The concept in a nutshell: Check everything but the story at the door. And as it turns out, Into the Woods thrives on flying solo. The entire setting is largely left to our imagination, with a field of ropes composing our "woods" at the back of the stage and piano frames lining the walls (set design by Derek McLane). Fiasco Theater is known for stripping classic works down to their skivvies, so their minimalist, 10-person rendering of Into the Woods is par for the course. But the barebones format fits the alternatingly playful and gruesome show like a finely tailored suit. The musical, by nature, is like a child's game of make-believe that unwittingly stumbles into a tragic reality, an idea that likely inspired Timothy Sheader's elaborate 2012 production at the outdoor Delacorte Theater. Powerful ideas, however, do not require such a loud delivery — a philosophy the Fiasco troupe embraces with a production that looks like it came straight from a dress-up bin. A knitted, bright-yellow wig passes for Rapunzel's flowing blonde locks, and oversize shawls, jackets, and hats (designed by Whitney Locher) are thrown on and off to cue changes in character. While in Act I these crude costume changes offer a lighthearted homage to youthful storytelling, in the second half they take on a new power, as what was an innocent gesture just moments ago could now mark a character's death.

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