April 16, 2010

Porchlight goes Into the Woods

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, five fairy tales came together in a catchy and whimsical musical. At the Theater Building Chicago, Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Into the Woods takes the stage with an excellent cast from the Porchlight Theater. The stories of Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk, to name a few, are woven together into a fantastic narrative. The musical is a tribute to the fairy tales and also a clever reinvention of them. Who knew Jack traded his cow for five magical beans that grew into towering bean stalks? Still, the show is not all laughs and smiles: Be prepared for a hint of the Grimm brothers’ dark take on these fairy tales.

Into the Woods features five classic stories that intertwine to magically bring together witches, giants, and foolish little girls. A baker and his wife wish to have a child, but a witch tells them she has cast a spell on them so that their family tree will always be a barren one. However, with a special potion, they can reverse the curse and finally have a bun in the oven. The potion calls for a hair as yellow as corn, a cow as white as milk, a slipper as pure as gold, and a cape as red as blood (see where this is going?). The baker and his wife set off to the woods to find the ingredients while, from another side of the stage, Cinderella finds her way to the Prince’s ball, and Jack sets off to sell his (very white) cow.

The baker and his wife face many challenges in the woods, but ultimately the experience brings them closer to the realization that “it takes two.” The first half of the show ends with justice and happiness for all. After intermission, however, all the bliss falls apart, and the woods begin to have an effect on the characters. The baker’s wife and the Prince kiss, and Giants roam free, wreaking havoc in the town. What happens next? You’ll have to check out the production to see how everything cleverly comes together in the end.

The cast is tremendously professional and the stage—which is surrounded on three sides by the audience—is extremely well designed. In a departure from the traditional Broadway stage, the set includes a half-moon digital screen, which sometimes distracts from the action when its graphics do not meld perfectly with the show. The screen is positioned towards the back of the stage and features graphics designed to visually aid the audience (as the witch lists the ingredients for the potion, they flash above on the screen). This feature does, however, allow for some meaningful additions to the production. The actors make strong choices and adeptly stay in character, even on close inspection by the nearby audience. Their voices are consistently on pitch, though sometimes a bit too heavy on the vibrato. On the whole, though, the cast maintains beautiful musicianship and works well with the live onstage orchestra.

The show is extremely entertaining and recommended for all theater-lovers. This new twist on the classic tales proves hilarious and astonishingly well done by the Porchlight Theater cast.