By Lucia Rossi
The one thing you need as an audience member for this show is imagination.
With the fantastical and extravagant “Into The Woods” film premiere in December last year, expectations for the off-Broadway show version were high. The amount of talent did not disappoint however, the lack of crew, props, and scenery did.
Using your imagination to enjoy this show may be something you love or hate, but it is required since each cast member plays more than one role.
You clearly see them play instruments and do sound effects, the only set is that of the inside of a house–although most scenes happen in the woods, the characters costumes change very little–and without major special effects tools they improvise by making shadows of scenes using lights and bed sheets.
“Into The Woods,” performed at the Laura Pels Theatre in Manhattan, is a musical twist on several, intertwined Brother’s Grimm fairy tales that explore the consequences of what you wish for.
The story comes together with the tales of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel.
They are all connected by a baker and his wife who want to break the curse of a witch to give them a child.
There is no doubt that the ten actors of the show certainly had their work cut out for them. The most pressure seemed to be on the piano player, Adam Marks. Since there was no orchestra, he played all the songs.
Exhaustively working throughout the performance, he was constantly being moved around the stage as a prop while playing, actors kept jumping on and off the piano, or hiding behind the piano, and he had a few lines.
Every actor did their part and more. Literally. Andy Grotelueschen played Milky White the cow, Florinda (one of Cinderella’s evil step sisters), and Rapunzel’s Prince. Noah Brody played Lucinda (Cinderella’s other evil step sister), the hungry wolf, and Cinderella’s Prince. Yes, men played female characters and it was hysterical.
Emily Young played Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel You get the point. Some of the sound effects they made were crying babies, galloping horses, and stomping giants. On top of that, they played a few instruments for musical numbers.
They made full use of whatever means they had. And with the help of imagination, it all looked and sounded completely legitimate.
The music was written by Stephen Sondheim who also wrote the score for Sweeney Todd. The song lyrics were witty, addictive, and humorous, and the music was catchy and ranged from strong and dramatic to soft and sweet.
One of the funniest songs was “Agony” sung by the two prince brothers about how their pain is worse than the other’s because of their circumstances with Cinderella and Rapunzel. They argued about who had it worse.
Other songs like, “I Know Things Now” by Red Riding Hood and “On The Steps of The Palace” by Cinderella are songs that are in stream of thought; they think about what they are saying and doing as they sing it. It is like you are accompanying them on their process of having a great revelation.
Since the film version of the show was a Disney production, they had to make certain cuts and plot changes to make it more appropriate to a younger audience. Not to spoil, but one princess dies in the musical that does not in the film, and two characters sleep together in the show that don’t in the film.
The show is a little more intense and it delves deeper into what happens to Rapunzel and her prince.
The show also contains a few different musical numbers. In the film, the song “Rainbows” was written specifically for Meryl Streep as the Witch to compensate for cut songs.
Every actor fit each character perfectly, whether they played a man, a woman, or beast.
Each person was vital to the story; there were truly no background characters. Each person used a certain piece of clothing or prop to signify that they were a certain character like a shawl, a cape with a hood, a cowbell, a jacket, or a hat.
Some of the most memorable lines come when Cinderella’s Prince says, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere,” and the Witch’s line “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.”
The actors were very friendly and interactive with the audience as well. Before the show began, they mingled with the audience by introducing themselves and asking how people were doing.
During the show, they had audience members in the front row hold props for them until they needed them back. In another scene, the baker’s wife hid within the audience and pretended to read a playbill. This was very refreshing to see.
The Roundabout Theatre Company that presents the show is a not-for-profit organization, so it is no wonder why the show lacked the extravagant props and set. While the show was simple, it did not take away from it’s enthralling performance.
The theatre is relatively small, so the view is clear from any seat. Also don’t try to take pictures of the set because it is copyrighted and they will call you out.
Despite the lack of materials, the show was nothing short of spectacular. Sometimes there are those shows or stories that make you go through every emotion and “Into The Woods” is one of them.
Don’t be surprised if you have the songs stuck in your head for days, they are very catchy.
This show might also give you the urge to belt out “There are giants in the sky! There are big tall terrible awesome scary wonderful giants in the sky!”