Thursday, August 16, 2012

Into the Woods

Into the Woods, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park
Gratuitous Violins rating: ***1/2 out of ****

For me Into the Woods was more than a show, it was a practically 24-hour experience that I can't judge solely by what I saw onstage.

From 5:30 a.m., when I got to Central Park to stand in line for a free ticket, until the curtain call shortly after 11 that night at the Delacorte Theater, it turned out to be one of my most memorable New York City days ever.

Initially, I wasn't enthusiastic about getting up before dawn but my friend Tapeworthy assured me that it would be fun. And you know what, he was right. I couldn't have asked for a better first visit to the Public Theater's Shakespeare Sondheim in the Park.

I spent seven hours watching the park come alive on a sunny Friday morning. I was with wonderful friends I've met through theatergoing. We had breakfast and lunch delivered. I ended up with a front-row seat. And despite my obsessive worrying, not one drop of rain fell.

I'll admit that Into the Woods isn't my favorite Stephen Sondheim musical. It's about 3 hours and near the end, I was feeling the length. There's a lot going on in James Lapine's book of overlapping fairy tales - a baker and his wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and maybe some others I missed. I think some of the deeper meaning went by me.

This production, which originated at London's Regent's Park, uses a child narrator instead of an adult. But because I didn't know any better, I just assumed the role was supposed to be a child's. I imagined this young boy having problems at home and he's run away. He ends up lost in the woods and has this dream/nightmare that's a mishmash of stories he's been told.

I was thrilled by the magical elements: the Witch's transformation, the Giant, voiced by Glenn Close, appearing in a corner of the sky, the sprouting beanstalks. I liked the multi-tiered treehouse set designed by John Lee Beatty that blended in with the park's natural woods. Although I can see where it wouldn't be nearly as much fun if you were sitting off to the side or to the back.

I attended the third preview, so I realize that things were still jelling. But I thought Denis O'Hare and Amy Adams were sweet the Baker and his Wife. Their quest for a child was touching. Although Adams, whose film work I've loved, didn't make as big an impression onstage as I'd hoped. Donna Murphy was a great menacing presence as the Witch.

But four performances really stood out for me.

Sarah Stiles as Little Red Riding Hood and Ivan Hernandez as the Wolf were sexy and hilarious. As Cinderella, Jessie Mueller had such a gorgeous voice, especially in "No One Is Alone," that I wish she'd had a bigger role. And Gideon Glick was so endearing as Jack. I loved his "Giants in the Sky."

My favorite part of Into the Woods was simply being in Central Park at night for the first time.

I don't think I've ever seen any theatre outdoors before and it was lovely. You don't feel like you're in a crowded, concrete island of 1.6 million people but out in the woods somewhere. I always want to be transported by what I see onstage but this took it to a whole different level. (My only criticism: I wish there had been better lighting outside the theater when we left.)

Maybe if I'd spent $150 to see the show on Broadway I might feel differently. And honestly, I'm not sure there's a big Broadway audience for this unless it has a big Hollywood star. Despite the subject matter, it's not for kids. But the day was so perfect - a terrific introduction to a now 50-year-old New York City summertime tradition.

In short, it was the kind of day the late Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park, might have had in mind when he said, "Part of the spiritual life of the city is its art."


Linda said...

I'm so glad you decided to try Shakespeare in the Park and had such a great experience. There was a lot I didn't like about this production (and a lot I liked), but you really can't beat sitting in the front row of the Delacorte on a nice summer night with friends and family.

Esther said...

Hey Linda, that's exactly how I felt. I had such a great time I might even do it again next summer. And big thanks to Amy! I asked her to ask for our four tickets since I wasn't sure I'd phrase it correctly. She got us those front-row seats!

Marie Cloutier said...

Sounds so wonderful :-) Even if the production wasn't perfect, it sounds like a lovely time.

Esther said...

Thanks, Marie, for reading and for the comment. It was one of those experiences I'll always cherish. For once in my life, the stars aligned perfectly! :-)