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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Into the Woods

So I'd seen the original 1987 Broadway production of Into the Woods at the Martin Beck Theater (remember the boot on the theater's marquee?), though by the time I saw the show, Phylicia Rashad had replaced Bernadette Pewters as The Witch.  And I'd seen Vanessa Williams as The Witch in the 2002 Broadway revival.

And on Christmas Day, as you recall, Drew and I saw the movie.  Very well done, true to the Broadway version even though there were some plot changes. 

Drew has some sort of membership with the Roundabout Theatre Company, so we tend to see a lot of their productions, most of which are revivals.  Roundabout's revival of Into the Woods is currently playing at the Laura Pels Theater (making it an Off-Broadway production but in the Theater District).

We saw it last night.  It was very different from what I've seen before.  Stripped down, bare bones.  A single set, looks like someone's living room, with a piano in the center of the room.  Chairs, couches, musical instruments.  A grandfather clock.  

Behind that, the walls look like they have been decorated with the giant inner workings of a piano.

The performers are dressed in somewhat nondescript style, the women in off white peasant dresses, the men in trousers, shirts and suspenders, a look right out of the 19th century.

The cast remains on stage for most of the production.  Most play multiple parts, creating a character through props and slight changes in costume.  For example, the actress playing Jack's mother wears a heavy shawl.  The same actress plays Cinerella's stepmother -- she removes the shawl and adds a frilly hat and a change of attitude.  One actor plays the cow (a bell around his neck), Rapunzel's Prince (a tailored jacket and a hobby horse) and one of Cinderella's stepsisters (a frilly hat).  The Baker's shop is simply a table, a throne is created by placing a wooden crate on the table.  Rapunzel is created by putting an actress on the top of a ladder and having her wear a bright yellow wool hat, the kind with the braids ...only these woolen braids go on and on and on ...

There is no orchestra, the music is provided by the piano on stage, supplemented by the actors occasionally playing the other instruments.

This type of staging really shows the talent of the cast, the audience sees the performer, not the costumes and props.  Your attention is drawn to the character, to the music, to the lyrics, without the "distractions"of elaborate sets, props and costumes.

Act I is cute and clever, telling the fairy tales we all know, woven together into one story.  Act II is the "grown up act", all about what happens after "happily ever after".  It's the story of real life, of love and loss, of banding together to face a common enemy.  Act II does get repetitive at times -- I guess that's why the movie made so many cuts -- but this kind of staging helps the audience focus on the deeper emotions of "real life".

Very well done production, we really enjoyed the show.

On a personal note ... Drew and I laughed a little louder than the rest of the audience when the two princes showed up with hobby horses.  Earlier in the evening we had dinner at Bubba Gump's, and when the waiters came to our table to sing "Happy Birthday", they brought a pink unicorn hobby horse with them -- and ham that he is, Drew actually danced with it.

(No picture, alas, it came out far too blurry.)

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