“Careful the tale you tell. That is the spell…” Stephen Sondheim’s deep, meaningful lyrics help to tell his tale in the musical, Into the Woods, which proves that “If the end is right, it justifies the beans.”
Center Stage, in a co-production with Connecticut’s Westport Country Playhouse has brought this spell of a musical to Baltimore directed by Mark Lamos, whimsical costumes by Candice Donnely, playful performances by a cast of 15, and an enchanting set by Allen Moyer.
In a book by James Lapine, Into the Woods takes a darker, twisted, and even sinister look into a blend of Grimm’s fairy tales, rather than the usual family-friendly, Disney-like adaptations of these stories.
Familiar characters include Cinderella and her wicked stepsisters, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Rapunzel and her Prince, the Witch, and Jack (and the beanstalk).
Like the show’s hodgepodge of fairy tales, this production has a blend of memorable and not so memorable performances.
An audience favorite is clearly Dana Steingold’s portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood. She is fiery, feisty, and funny! With her baby voice and even a few toddler-like mannerisms, she played the role a bit younger than I have seen. That made her all the more tasty to the Wolf (Nik Walker) who cunningly sings “Hello, Little Girl.” Nik, who is very tall, towers over Dana, making the Wolf all the more believable when he sings the lyrics, “There’s no possible way to describe what you feel when you’re talking to your meal.” But don’t worry about Red, for she learns how to deal with someone who stabs her in the back.
The role of the Witch is very demanding, both with vocals and characterization. Lauren Kennedy gives a good effort but doesn’t quite make the character interesting enough.
I would have also liked to have seen more as far as the number of musicians in the orchestra. While I am happy that they didn’t use “digital enhancements” to make the sound larger, the seven member pit orchestra isn’t enough to do justice to Sondheim’s masterwork.
Sondheim must have liked Danielle Ferland enough for her to land part of the original Red Riding Hood on Broadway. Here, at Centerstage, Ferland plays the role of the Baker’s Wife who longs to have a baby. The Baker (Erik Liberman) and his wife are willing to go into the woods to find a few items of importance to the Witch who will give them a baby in exchange. Ferland and Liberman make the most believable pair as they deliver two of the finest, most memorable performances in the production.
The set and costumes really helped to tell the story. Jeffery Denman as the Narrator wore a handsome lime green coat to go with his telling of these sometimes sour stories. Almost like a director, the Narrator played with a “mini-theatre” set-piece, complete with wooden cut-outs of actors that would change to match the life-sized set. Alma Cuervo as the Stepmother looked very powerful in her green and black dress with ruffled collar and an over-sized gold buckled pilgrim-like hat that was bigger than her head. Her costume was wonderful but what really completed Cuervo’s look to her character was her fantastic evil eye expressions. Cuervo also doubles as the voice of the Giant. Unfortunately, there is so much reverb and other effects mixed through her mic that her voice is very hard to understand.
Like all fairy tales, Into the Woods teaches a lesson. “Everything you learn there will help when you return there.” Luckily, you don’t need to go into the woods to learn; you just need to go into the theatre.
WATCH a video promo for Centerstage’s production of Into the Woods.
Into The Woods plays through April 15th at Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410- 332-0033 or purchase them online.