No woods. No cutesy pop-up book set. Just three hours of pure musical theater pleasure: gorgeous melodies, clever lyrics, profound ideas and a dream cast. The Arden’s production of Sondheim’s beloved musical, Into the Woods, directed with imagination and precision by Terrence J. Nolan is not to be missed.
The idea here is nothing so banal as updating a fairytale for capital-R- Relevance; such shows and novels are a dime a dozen. Far more interesting is Sondheim’s meditation on the complications, disappointments and griefs of human life, about what it means to grow up— to go into the woods— where bad things happen to good people.
Many fairytales are invoked: the Witch (Kim Carson) at the heart of all the troubles; the Baker (Ben Dibble) and his wife (Katherine Fried) who long for a child; Cinderella (Alia Munsch) who longs to go to the ball and meet her prince (Garrick Vaughan); Cinderella’s cruel stepmother (Jessy Gruver); Rapunzel (Anna Faye Lieberman) and her prince (Vanessa Sterling); Jack (Ellis Gage) and his mother (Mary Elizabeth Scallen); Little Red Ridinghood (Grace Ellis Solomon) and her Granny (Brenson Thomas), and, of course, the necessary character who tells the story, the narrator (Scott Greer).
There are funny songs like “Agony” sung by the two princes about their longings for their ladyloves Rapunzel and Cinderella, a song that is reprised in Act Two when the princes, happily married, now long for new princesses, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. There are heart- wrenching songs, like “Children Will Listen,” and wise songs like “I Know Things Now” sung by a Little Red Ridinghood who has discovered through her meeting with the Big Bad Wolf that “Nice is different from good.”
Act One is filled with dangerous complications—witch’s spells, giant’s in the sky—and ends happily. But not “happily ever after” since Act Two gives us the darker side of discontentment—-adultery, death, blame, revenge, sadness—since Sondheim has written a show for grown-ups.
[Arden Theatre Co. 40 N. 2nd Street] June 2-July 8, 2022; ardentheatre.org