November 11, 2013

Into the Woods We Go: A Production at IC

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“Into the woods — It’s time and so, I must begin my journey.” Into the Woods is just that: A fabulous, amazing, profound journey. When I discovered that Into the Woods was up at the Ithaca College main stage, I leapt at the chance to see a new production — it is definitely one of the most exciting musicals out there.

Though Stephen Sondheim, who wrote Into the Woods, is better known for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, that reputation is about to change. In a year and a half, an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp will take Into the Woods to the big screen. This kind of cast is sure to attract attention. Hopefully Ithaca College’s production will as well.

Because Into the Woods is an ensemble piece, there is very little room for characters who are not leads in the production — there are so many.  The show opens with scenes we have all scene before: Cinderella (Katie Drinkard) scrubbing the floor while her step-mother (Kayley Anne Collins) mocks; Little Red Riding Hood (Rebecca Skowron) purchasing a loaf of bread and some sweets to take to her grandmother (Caelan Creaser) from a Baker (Nicholas Carroll) and his wife (Grace Stockdale; and Jack (Avery Sobczak), unwilling to part with Milky White (Celena Morgan), his cow who has ceased to produce milk. Enter the Witch (Alyssa Magarian), who tells the Baker and his wife that they are cursed and can never bear a child, until they retrieve “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold.”  And so, into the woods they go. Through a convoluted stream of events, Act I ends as all fairy tales do: Cinderella gets her Prince (Adam James King), Rapunzel (Hannah Richter) gets not only a Prince, but twins as well, Jack slays a giant, the Baker’s Wife is pregnant and Red has a new wolf skin cape. The event leading through Act I are truly nothing to write home about, and many high schools and middle schools tend to cut the musical off there. The only two songs which really carry the show at that point are “Agony,” sung by the Princes (Adam James King and Roger Reed) and “Hello Little Girl.”

Then comes Act II: the reason I fell in love with Into the Woods so many years ago and the time when the cast truly gets to prove themselves. Act II is what comes after ever-after — how the story really ends. Can a girl who has spent her entire life alone in a tower become a normal wife and mother in a day? Can two princes who love the chase really settle down with their wives?  Is the wife of the giant that Jack killed really ready to let it go? For the lack of a better phrase, Act II is when the shit hits the fan. The height of the tension of the act culminates in the songs “Your Fault” and “Last Midnight,” the latter being the most powerful and perhaps the most beautiful song in the musical, delivered by the jaded Witch. Finally, the themes of family, parents and children, which have carried the entire musical, culminate with “No One is Alone,” sung by the Baker, Cinderella, Jack and Red.

Into the Woods is not a musical that can be saved by a good set design, over-the-top costumes (though Cinderella’s step family looked like they fell directly out of the Capitol in The Hunger Games), crazy choreography or an amazing orchestra. Though all four were top notch, unlike more flashy musicals, Into the Woods must be carried entirely by the cast of the show. The Ithaca College production put in a few flares of their own (including an oddly sexual relationship between Jack and the harp, played by a woman), but sometimes a little change can be good. Though many of the new additions led to laughs and didn’t hurt the overall plot, I was slightly perturbed by the changing of a few lyrics in “Last Midnight.”  Other than those issues though, the cast managed to carry the show beautifully — with Cinderella, the Wolf and the Baker’s Wife  perhaps shining the brightest in the bunch. The entire production was extremely well cast, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of my time there.

And by enjoyed, I mean that I left the production feeling slightly unsettled and heart-broken, because that is what the musical is: a little unsettling and a little disturbing while it stirs up your childhood memories and taints them. So I left knowing that I had seen an excellent performance of Into the Woods — one that hit me profoundly and one that I can honestly say was amazing. Into the Woods is a remarkable musical, and though its run at IC is over, it is a journey I would recommend to all.