It’s almost the last midnight for The Public Theater’s free presentation of Stephen Sondeim’s classic fairytale-gone-bad musical, “Into the Woods,” currently playing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Although the Delacorte Theater has played host to free Shakespeare performances every summer, during the annual “Shakespeare in the Park” series, this is the first year that the theatre has also hosted a free Sondheim show.
Despite being completely free (although it is possible to score tickets by making a large arts donation…), Shakespeare (and now Sondheim) in the Park is annually one of the most difficult shows to get tickets too. Would-be patrons generally must either be on line by 6am on a performance day, and wait until the box office opens at 1pm, with the hope of getting tickets for that evening’s 8pm performance, or take their chance at virtual ticketing, an online lottery that rarely seems to pay out. There are also a few other way to get tickets, but at the risk of giving away a long guarded secret, I am loathe to post that information publicly here. Feel free to e-mail WGINY if you want more info, but act quickly as the show closes Labor Day weekend, with the last show on September 1.
I first heard of Sondheim’s musical, “Into the Woods,” when I was a teenager, taking an acting class at my high school, and I immediately fell in love with the story, and especially with Bernadette Peters, in one of her most recognizable and challenging roles, as the “Witch.” I did not think that any actress could rival Peters’ talent, but I must admit that I was captivated by actress Donna Murphy’s portrayal of the Witch in this limited engagement show, and in her malevolent wisdom, she may have rivaled Bernadette's original performance...
Although slated to begin at 8pm, the show actually started around 8:10pm, giving patrons the opportunity to find their seats, use the restroom, and generally arrive a few minutes late. There did not appear to be any bad seats in the theater. The set design was simple, utilizing the natural surroundings of the park to build a forest scene that may very well have been the same woods used in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” (which WGINY did not have the opportunity to see, but which was put on by the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater earlier this summer). No pictures were allowed in the theater, but I should add that the designers did a superbly quirky job of juxtaposing the set and costumes together (take notice, for example, how the "Giant" appears, voiced by Glenn Close).
For patrons with hearing impairments, the play's dialogue was presented on two screens on either side of the theater in closed caption. I appreciated this, and found myself following the captions at times just to be clear on Sondheim’s creative song lyrics. In fact, being familiar with the show, I found it hard to contain my desire to sing along, but found that the audience was quiet and contemplative throughout the show.
Sondheim’s play is full of comic musings and double entendre, and is as much a fairytale for children as for adults. My one qualm with this adapation was the young child cast as the narrator. I am ingrained to expect a Dick Clark type in the narrator’s role, an older gentleman who can double as the “Mysterious Man” character (who, in this rendition, turns out to be played by Chip Zien, who portrayed the “Baker” in the original Sondheim show on Broadway). While I understood the whimsical aspect of casting a child in the narrator role, I felt it was misplaced for this show.
There were also some over-exaggerated sexual undertones throughout the show, such as between Little Red Riding Hood (played by the adorably snarky Sarah Stiles) and her Wolf (portrayed by Ivan Hernandez, who plays the role like a capricious, mischievous "Jack Sparrow"), but overall the show was true to its roots. Actress Amy Adams breathed a young, sweet life into the play as the Baker's Wife, and her counterpart, played by Denis O'Hare, captured the audience as the tragic protagonist, the Baker.
Exploring wishes, desires, fantasies, selfishness, selflessness, and other motifs, "Into the Woods" finds itself full of moral dilemmas, conundrums and other parables, leaves the audience with some enigmatic conclusions: "If the end is right, it justifies the beans," and "Sometimes the things you most wish for are not to be touched."
WGINY Reader Tip: Want to meet the actors? Head to Gate 1 right after the curtain call and many of the actors will come out to greet you, and may even agree to sign autographs and pose for pictures.