Since its debut in 1986, Into the Woods has been known for its witty and surprisingly poignant musical twist on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Into the Woods, as presented at the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts (the Wallis) in Beverly Hills, is a flamboyant fun look at the back story and future of several fairy tale characters.
For those eagerly awaiting the upcoming movie version of Into the Woods, the live stage brilliant production of the Tony Award-winning musical is at the Wallis through Dec. 21. (The movie opens four days later.) The Oregon Shakespeare Festival developed this innovative staging, which is directed here by Amanda Dehnert.
Into the Woods, with Stephen Sondheim’s musical and lyrics by and James Lapine’s book, starts off casual and sparse with the actors slowly morphing into the characters from several fairy tales, like Cinderella, the Baker and his Wife, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack (pre-beanstalk). An ensemble piece, the characters interact with each other as well as bringing their own story to life with cheeky wit and plenty of puns. Jack’s trade of his cow for the beans has a line “I hope to see my cow again and not on a plate.”
The musical is a romp through fractured fairy tales for the first act, with Cinderella getting her Prince, Red Riding Hood encountering the wolf, Rapunzel unraveling her mane, Jack selling his cow for beans, etc. The characters all travel and intersperse in “the woods.” Cinderella’s prince and Rapunzel’s prince are brothers who commiserate with each other’s agony trying to pursue their respective maidens.
Act II deals with the characters’ lives after the original stories ended. Is Cinderella happy with her Prince (“raised to be Charming not sincere”)? Did Rapunzel’s solitude affect her mentally? Basically, the characters are not finding “ever after” as satisfying as they thought. Then, with a crash, a giant begins to destroy their homes forcing them all back into the woods, where they begin to bicker and bad things happen.
One major theme (besides the happy ever after is elusive) is the affect parents have on their offspring because, as the most renowned song from the score points out, Children Will Listen. The point is not necessarily the telling of fairy or family tales; it is the influence one has on people looking to them for wisdom and support.
The cast does not feature marquee-name performers, but they are mostly successful in capturing the characters as widely known with cheeky appeal and insouciance. Royer Bockus as Rapunzel, Miriam A Laube as the Witch and Jennie Greenberry as Cinderella all had beautiful or textured voices. The entertaining princes, John Tufts and Jeremy Peter Johnson, were appropriately pompous and fun riding their horse-head tricycles and singing about their Agony. Lastly, Catherine E. Coulson adds comical charm as the old cow, Milky White, that Jack sells.
Now in their second season, the Wallis and its Brad Goldsmith Theater also star in the production. The 500-seat venue is beautiful and perfect for a show like this where the cast ventures out into the audience. The facility, located in the heart of Beverly Hills, offers a wide variety of entertainment options from musicals, like Into the Woods, to dance to more intimate offerings in its 150-seat theatre.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance Dec. 4, 2014
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Broadway Musical Home
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Photo by Kevin Parry/Courtesy of the Wallis