Act One of Into the Woods has a happy ending, but the fairy tale characters in the Stephen Sondheim musical do not live happily ever after. They face an existential threat in Act Two.
The difference in tone between the two acts troubles some viewers, but the audience is well prepared for the change in the excellent production by Washington University’s Performing Arts Department.
The most important part of the preparation is the insightfulness of the characterization. The book by James Lapine combines some classic fairy tales with an entirely new story. The familiar characters include Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack who climbed the beanstalk. The new story is about a baker and his wife who hope to undo the curse that has kept them childless.
Under director Annamaria Pileggi, the Washington U. students have found so much depth in their characters so that they do not seem out of place when they are caught up in life-threatening circumstances.
Robert Mark Morgan’s scenic design includes attractive set pieces decorated in a picture-book style, but the woods behind the action have a menacing quality right from the start.
Just as disquieting is the portrayal of Milky White, Jack’s beloved but sickly cow. It is not a fanciful prop, but a puppet operated by two members of a dance troupe who are dressed entirely in black and are therefore not meant to be seen. The white costume they share is just bones. After taking in the disturbing image of the skeletal Milky White, how surprised can one be by the grim turn of events in Act Two?
The musical numbers are of exceptional quality thanks to the playing the ten-piece band under music director Henry Palkes, the choreography by Sam Gaitsch, and the singing and dancing of the cast. The uniformly admirable performers are:
- Dylan McKenna as the Narrator and the Mysterious Man ……
- Nina Silverstein as Cinderella
- Eli Bradley as Jack
- Alexander Hewlett as the Baker
- Isabel Kelene as the Baker’s Wife
- Ella Sherlock as Cinderella’s Stepmother
- Danielle Bryden as Florinda, a stepsister of Cinderella’s
- Jo Palisoc as Lucinda, a stepsister of Cinderella’s
- Chloe Kilpatrick as Jack’s Mother
- Brenna Jones as Little Red Ridinghood
- Amanda Sherman as the Witch
- Zach Berger as Cinderella’s Father
- Samantha Campisi as Cinderella’s Mother, Little Red’s Granny, and the Giant
- Martin Ibarra as the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince
- Brittany Rogus as Rapunzel
- Andre Harte as Rapunzel’s Prince
- Andrew Breton as the Steward
Sam Cohen, Matthew Kalmans, Paige Samz are the dancers who portray Milky White, the Giant’s harp, and Cinderella’s bird friends.
Dominique Green designed splendid costumes for the fairy tale characters. The multiple stories are told with great efficiency thanks to the flexibility of Robert Mark Morgan’s scenic design and Seth Kleinberg’s lighting. Emily Frei’s props and Beef Gratz’s sound enhance the atmosphere.
Into the Woods continues at 8 p.m. October 28 and 29 and 2 p.m. October 30 in the Edison Theatre, 6465 Forsyth Boulevard.
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Photography