By Manning Harris
“Into the Woods,” music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine, is currently on view at the Alliance Theatre’s main stage through Oct. 2. The show opened on Broadway in 1987, starred Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason, and ran for almost two years. It won three Tony Awards in 1988 (Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress—Ms. Gleason) and probably would have won more had it not been for the presence of the monster hit “The Phantom of the Opera” (still running). Bad timing for “Into the Woods.”
The Alliance version, directed by Susan V. Booth, celebrating her tenth year as Artistic Director (we offer our hearty congratulations), is visually gorgeous. We’re in fairyland (as in the Brothers Grimm) now, with stories on top of stories: Little Red Ridinghood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and a new one we’ll call The Baker and His Wife Want a Child. Sound like a full plate? It is—too full for riveting dramatic cohesion, but the show still has plenty of charm and wit, not to mention lots of Freudian/Jungian references (fairy tales are bursting with them, you know).
Best of all, however, are the music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim: always surprising, sprightly, wistful, and often ironic—they engage the ear and the mind and quickly become hypnotic; and you know that only Sondheim could have written them. Perhaps the best known is “Children Will Listen.” He’s not the most dominant, emulated, envied figure in musical theatre today for nothing.
Ms. Booth has assembled a large, attractive, and talented cast, and here are some of them: the Witch, Angela Robinson; Jack, Jeremy Wood; Jack’s Mother, Courtenay Collins; Cinderella, Jill Ginsberg; Cinderella’s Stepmother, Chandra Currelley; the Baker, Mark Price; Baker’s Wife, Courtney Balan, the Narrator/Mysterious Man, Walter Hudson; Rapunzel, Jamie Wood Katz; Sleeping Beauty, Amber Iman; Little Red Ridinghood, Diany Rodriguez; Princes, Hayden Tee and Corey James Wright (both quite fine). Incidentally, Ms. Robinson’s Witch manages the Streepian task of morphing from a deliciously hideous witch to a quite lovely witch with ease. Mr. Tee performs similar magic by also becoming the Wolf.
Special mention to Todd Rosenthal for his fine set and to Lex Liang for costume design; both are invaluable contributions here.
Ms. Booth, by arrangement with the musicians’ union and the Atlanta Symphony, and with the blessings of Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Lapine (according to the AJC—I’m impressed!) is using a very talented youth orchestra; and they deliver—in spades.
There’s a line in the play: “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.” So, fair reader, Atlanta is being blessed with three fine musicals: “Into the Woods,” of course; “Spring Awakening,” currently selling out at Actor’s Express; and a little show called “Wicked,” opening next week. “There are giants in the sky,” as Jack says here. Enjoy while you may.
For tickets and information, visit www.alliancetheatre.org.