Ashland Review: Into the Woods

Jul 15, 2014


by Dorothy Velasco

for broadcast on KLCC July 15, 2014

Credit Oregon Shakespeare Festival

“Into the Woods,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan Theatre, is a Broadway-worthy spectacle. You may very well enjoy it as much as the ecstatic opening night audience.

I confess that I’ve never found the Tony winner by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine to be very thought-provoking. With “Into the Woods,” Sondheim and Lapine take a handful of well known fairy tales beyond the “happily ever after” stage and show the real-life miseries that follow.

I can’t quibble with the theme, but it’s so obvious. Do we need a three-hour musical to drive the point home? In the first act, Cinderella, Jack (the Beanstalk kid), Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a horrible witch, and a baker and his barren wife intermingle and influence each other’s stories. It’s fun to see the pieces of plot fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, but there’s virtually no suspense.

The second act at least has more action and some genuine laughs.

“Into the Woods” plays at theaters across the country year after year, but you won’t find a better cast than the talented actors in Ashland. Gorgeous voices, fine acting and acrobatic skills abound.

Miriam Laube is riveting as the witch, reminding me that I’d like to see her sometime soon as Medea. Robin Goodrin Nordli as Jack’s mother slides down a swath of silk, Cirque de Soleil-style, and looks terrific. Miles Fletcher plays Jack as slightly dense but with a beautiful voice.

Kjerstine Rose Anderson as Little Red Riding Hood develops from a careless child into a punk wolf killer.

Jennie Greenberry is a wise Cinderella reluctant to be a princess, and splendid soprano Royer Bockus offers a deeply disturbed Rapunzel. Jeremy Peter Johnson and John Tufts as their unfaithful husbands are truly funny as they sing “Agony” while riding tricycle ‘horses.’

The baker and wife, played by Javier Munoz and Rachael Warren, last year’s Eliza Doolittle, are ordinary folks sucked into a dangerous vortex beyond their imagination.

Director Amanda Denhert, who directed last year’s “My Fair Lady,” uses a similar framing device here. At the beginning of the show actors appear in everyday clothes, holding scripts. Gradually they add costumes and full action, and we’re into the show. At the end the process is reversed, bringing us back to real life. The orchestra sits in three sections onstage and Denhert conducts from the audience.

As the crowd cheered at the end, I felt deprived. Why can’t I have that much fun? Why doesn’t the script challenge me? Why must I be like the child who blurts out, “The emperor has no clothes!”?

This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Review.