As the curtain lifted and the rich music filled the air, the Los Angeles production of Into the Woods transported the audience on a captivating journey through the dark and whimsical realms of classic fairy tales and newly crafted ones. With a talented cast and superb direction by Lear DeBessonet, this rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s masterpiece brought new life to this popular musical.
This show has long been one of the most popular in the Sondheim cadre and this excellent production clearly shows why. The cleverness of James Lapine’s book which intertwines several famous fairy tales along with the creation of a new one to tie them all together is worth admiring. Each of the classic tales remains intact while being woven into the new tale of the Baker and his wife who need to undo a curse in order to have a child. Act One deals with each tale having its core wish coming true leading to happily ever after. Act Two breaks into new territory as each character learns that “wishes come true, not free, ” and then deals with the consequences.
A major factor in the success of this production is the exceptional casting. Each actor skillfully embodied their character, infusing them with depth, emotion, and a genuine connection to the audience. The standout performances included the dynamic duo of the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, played by actual husband and wife Stephanie J. Block and Sebastian Arcellus. They effortlessly conveyed the couple’s longing, humor, and growth throughout the story. The Witch, played by Montego Glover, had a commanding presence and delivered powerful vocals, although not the funniest I have seen in the role. As Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf, Gavin Creel stole every scene he was in, making more of the roles than I had previously seen. Holding their own with equally strong performances were Diane Phelan as Cinderella, Katy Geraghty as Little Red Riding Hood, and Cole Thompson as Jack. Special kudos to Kennedy Kanagawa bringing extra laughs as the puppeteer for Milky White, Jack’s pet cow. But truly, there was not a weak link in the entire cast, making this “Into The Woods” a true ensemble piece.
Lear DeBessonet ‘s director’s vision played a crucial role in making this production of “Into the Woods” a resounding success. The pacing was spot-on, balancing the humor, darkness, and heartfelt moments with precision. The complex themes and intricate plot were handled with care, allowing the audience to navigate the intertwining narratives effortlessly. The direction also showcased the profound messages embedded within the musical, exploring the consequences of wishes and the blurred lines between right and wrong.
The touring production of “Into the Woods” delivered a truly magical experience. It successfully transported the audience into a world of enchantment and reflection. It runs until July 30, 2023 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. For tickets or further information visit their website, CenterTheatreGroup.org