Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of JQA
Composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and bookwriter James Lapine created a mashup of fairy tales that, after the idealized happy ending of act one, follows the main characters as they have to face the dilemmas and dangers they never expected. As it incorporates several plots, it's the rare musical with an abundance of lead roles: the Baker (Evan Casey), the Baker's Wife (Awa Sal Secka), the Witch (Rachel Zampelli), Cinderella (Erin Driscoll), Little Red Ridinghood (Jade Jones), Jack of beanstalk fame (Samy Nour Younes), Rapunzel (Quynh-My Luu), and the Narrator/Mysterious Man (Scott Sedar). The numerous strong supporting characters include Cinderella's Prince (Christopher Mueller) and Rapunzel's Prince (Hasani Allen), who both double as wolves; Jack's mother (Rayanne Gonzales); and even Jack's cow Milky White (Tiziano D'Affuso in a wire mask and what looks like surgical gauze).
The central plot involves the Baker and his Wife, who discover that their inability to have a child comes from the Witch's curse on the Baker's family. She offers them the chance to break the curse, which requires bringing her Red Ridinghood's cape, a hank of Rapunzel's hair, Cinderella's slipper (gold rather than glass, for reasons that become apparent), and poor Milky White. As everyone learns, any action may have unexpected consequences.
With so many major roles, Into the Woods changes its focus from one production to another: sometimes the Baker and Wife stay in the forefront, other times it's Cinderella's story arc or the difficult mother-daughter bond between the Witch and Rapunzel. In this production, Jones dominates as a Little Red Ridinghood with smarts and attitude; whenever she's on stage, the other performers step back and give her room.
Secka is funny and moving as a woman discovering parts of herself she never knew about, well matched by Casey's gawky determination, and Zampelli convinces as a seedy crone who undergoes her own transformation. Driscoll is lovely, Younes achingly sweet-natured, Gonzales a riot as she has to clean up after Jack's adventures, and on and on. However, Mueller and Allen take awhile to get into the groove; they're too broad early on instead of saving that for the second act.
Complementing the scenic design are Wade Laboissonniere's richly detailed costumes (for example, the wolves' feet on stilts), Rui Rita's intense and spooky lighting design, and Clint Allen's projections.
William Yanesh conducts seven musicians from the keyboard, providing solid work with Kim Scharnberg's revision of Jonathan Tunick's lavish orchestrations.