Sitting down to watch Into the Woods at Dr Phillips Center did not come with a particular expectation like some Broadway tours may offer. While the direct-from-Broadway production had the promise to deliver an impeccable night of theater, the classic fairy tales were waiting to tell a different story to the audience. Even if the real stories might be a little grim, those cautionary tales might have more relevant meaning than people realize.
For musical lovers, a Stephen Sondheim musical has certain qualities. Even if there are moments where the lyrics are quickly sung, the meaning behind those words is never overlooked. With a simple turn of a phrase, the audience can see the familiar in a different light.
With this production of Into the Woods, the sparse stage is not about the grandeur of those classic fairy tales. It is a reminder that the happily ever after is about the person, not the opulent palace, the pot of gold, or another form of status. Even if that wish might come true, how it was achieved and how it is lived might not be sunshine and rainbows.
In this story, four classic fairy tales are woven together by the Baker and his wife’s quest. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk are familiar faces and plots but seen in a different light. Although many people appreciate that the classic tales are not quite “family” friendly in their original form, this cautionary tale brings a touch of that darkness while having a few laughs in the process.
As the Baker and his wife seek the four items to lift their childless curse, the choices that they make along that path may not always be what they seem. Even though the hypnotic melody lures the audience into the dark path, the lyrics serve as a reminder that the woods may not be what they seem.
The performances by this Broadway touring company are exquisitely delivered. Given the minimal set, their expressiveness is another element that adds to the show’s depth. The slight turn of the hand is just as important as the emotional delivery of a phrase.
Although her character might be the witch, Montego Glover steals the show with her conniving ways. Even though there is much manipulation by her character and outstanding dramatic singing moments, the subtly shines through in every note. Everyone is captured by the spell of her mesmerizing moments.
As Little Red Riding Hood, Katy Geraghty pushes away the character’s sweeter characteristics with inflection and determination. Her character might be small in stature, but she is a huge presence. Often the person who says what everyone only dares to murmur gives the audience the laughter break that they crave.
The Baker and his Wife, played by Sebastian Arcelus and Stephanie J. Block, laid the foundation of the cautionary tale. While the Woods might be intriguing, being seduced by its darkness can lead to dire consequences. As the Baker’s Wife succumbs to temptation, she realizes that dreams might be tempting but they are not always worth the sacrifice.
While there are many serious moments throughout the musical, the whimsy that people expect from the fairy tale is never far from view. It is impossible not to fall in love with Milky White, who is brought to life by Puppeteer Kennedy Kanagawa.
The two princes are the cards that everyone loves to love and hate. Cinderella’s prince might have one of the best lines about his “charming” persona yet flawed character. These two royal brothers are not the version that people might see at another Orlando locale.
Overall, Into the Woods is a spectacular night of musical theater. Even if a few of those notes might have people wondering if they have stepped onto Fleet Street, this Sondheim musical has more light than darkness. Even though stepping into the woods might seem like the ultimate adventure, staying on the path could lead to great fulfillment.
Into the Woods plays Dat r. Phillips Center in Orlando through June 11. This multiple award-nominated touring production features several of the Broadway cast members. Additional dates can be found online.