Friday, April 11, 2014

theatre review INTO THE WOODS, Grand Canyon University, April 6

Rachel Callahan and Joy Flatz
Click here to read my complete Talkin' Broadway review (highlights below) of Into the Woods playing at Grand Canyon University through this coming Sunday.

"Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods is one of the cleverest musicals ever written. They seamlessly weaved together familiar fairy tales that we all grew up with into a musical where the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel all interconnect with each other. Sondheim's score and Lapine's book come together effortlessly in a show that has just as many comical moments as it does reflective ones. The production that is running at Grand Canyon University through April 13 is just as creative and effortless, with impressive costumes, sets and make-up, assured direction, and an almost perfect cast.

Into the Woods includes some of Sondheim's most intricate and humorous rhyme schemes and some of Lapine's funniest and most touching dialogue. It isn't a far stretch to assume that these well-known tales all happened in the same place, and since most of them have scenes that take place in the woods, it also seems fitting that the setting of the woods would be the way to connect them all. But what Sondheim and Lapine also did was to create an entirely original fairy tale, the story of the Baker and his wife who are desperate to have a child, as the way to bring these famous stories together. The Baker and the Baker's Wife live right next door to a Witch. She tells the couple that she placed a curse on their family and that is why they are unable to have a child. However, if they wish to have the curse reversed there is a potion that is made up of four items that they can bring to her and the curse will be lifted. The ingredients of the potion aren't clearly spelled out and when the Baker and his wife are sent off to the woods by the Witch to get the items, they meet up with the other fairy tale characters who are also in the woods: Jack on his way to market to sell his cow, Little Red on her way to her grandmother's house, Rapunzel who lives in a tower in the woods, and Cinderella who is on her way back from the ball. They, and the audience, quickly realize that the four required items are related to these other characters and are yet another creative way that Sondheim and Lapine combine the stories into one adventure.

While the direction, cast and creative elements are extremely well done, my only quibbles are that some of the humorous lines are too rushed, or delivered too seriously, thus losing a few punch lines in Lapine's well-crafted book, and two songs have some slight directive flaws. "Your Fault," where the characters are trying to determine who is to blame for the bad fortune they are now facing, is staged with the characters constantly pushing each other, which adds an unnecessary and continually repetitive movement to the song that detracts from the lyrics. The Witch's solo, "Last Midnight," ends with her being overpowered by a smoke effect before the song is finished, completely making her hidden by the smoke for the last 30 seconds of the song. Perhaps having her move forward to be in front of the smoke and then stepping back as the song finishes, as if it is sucking her away, would be a more accurate way to depict the ending of this song. And, though the band is nicely directed, the score loses some of its lushness when played by only five instruments.  But those negative moments are small when compared to the good work that GCU is performing. This is a delightful, witty and enchanting production of one of the most creative and ingenious musicals. With some of Sondheim's brightest gems, including the ballads "No One is Alone," and "Children Will Listen," Into the Woods is a show that also has important lessons and messages underneath the comical exterior. The GCU production is able to get those messages across, and moves smoothly and swiftly with a well-directed cast that presents this complex tale in a worthwhile and worth watching production. "

Into the Woods at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre runs through April 13, 2014. The theatre is located at 3300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix and ticket and performance information can be found at or by calling (602) 639-8880.

Photo: Daryl Webb/Grand Canyon University


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