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into the Woods ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
December 13, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Laurie Veldheer as Cinderella and Bonne Kramer as Cinderella's Stepmother -Phone credit Joan Marcus

Laurie Veldheer as Cinderella and Bonne Kramer as Cinderella’s Stepmother -Phone credit Joan Marcus

Smack dab in the heart of the holiday season comes Into the Woods.  For fans of the legendary collaboration of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, this is sheer heaven.  This semi-autobiographical musical has brilliant lyrics, a stunning score and all around silliness wrapped up neatly in a big red bow.  It’s part farce and part tragedy – played to the hilt by a formidable cast.

Lesa Helmi Johanson as Little Red Ridinghood and Anthony Chatmon II as the Wolf - Photo credit Joan Marcus

Lesa Helmi Johanson as Little Red Ridinghood and Anthony Chatmon II as the Wolf – Photo credit Joan Marcus

This gift of classic fairy tales reimagined is brought to us by New York’s Fiasco Theater ensemble.  It’s a minimalist rustic version – like a tiny log cabin in the deep woods – and it’s a hoot.  Remember the Disney film version with Meryl Streep that came out a few years back?  Well, it’s nothing like that.  This feels more like Monty Python and his Flying Circus did a mash up of Jack in the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood and Rapunzel.  Oh, and there’s a brief reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  But unlike those zany knights, it has deeply intimate moments of love and loss – and of hope, sorrow and romance – as when one of the princes (Anthony Chatmon II) has a syvlan tryst with the baker’s wife and explains it away by asserting, “Foolishness can happen in the woods.”

There are heroes and villains and those we think are, but even they protest their typecasting.  Why? Because, “people make mistakes” and others are complicit in carrying them out.

As for keeping a light-hearted dynamic in the face of gloom and doom, a feather duster subs for the goose that laid the golden egg, the wolf is a mounted head, campy wicked stepsisters move around in an oxen’s yoke and an enchantress, the Witch, becomes a slinky, sexy glamour girl well after she makes demands on the Baker (Evan Harrington) and his barren wife (Eleasha Gamble).  In order to have a child, they must deliver to her Jack’s beloved milky white cow, Red Riding Hood’s blood red cape, Rapunzel’s yellow-as-corn hair and the golden slipper from Cinderella – quite the tall order.  You would think it couldn’t get any sillier until a dressmaker’s form is imagined as a tree.

Lisa Helmi Johanson as Rapunzei  and Venessa Reseland as The Witch - Photo credit Joan Marcus

Lisa Helmi Johanson as Rapunzei and Venessa Reseland as The Witch – Photo credit Joan Marcus

Vanessa Reseland’s marvelously haunting voice produces more goosebumps than the wolf on “No More” and “Last Midnight”.  And look for DC native, Eleasha Gamble, as the Baker’s Wife to steal your heart in “Moments in the Woods”.

Directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld keep the ten actors (who double and often triple their role responsibilities) on stage throughout, playing accompanying instruments when they’re not otherwise engaged in mayhem, which prevails most notably in Act Two.  Solo pianist, Evan Rees, on stage at an upright piano, jumps in as Milky White just as things get dicey.

Lighting Designer, Christopher Akerlind, gives us dramatic atmosphere – cue the thunder and lightning – while Derek McLane’s unusual backdrop of thick-spun, rafters-to-stage floor ropes, imagined as piano strings and framed by silvery silhouettes of pianos, reminds us that ultimately it’s all about the music.  And that’s why we pilgrimage to Sondheim – no matter where, no matter when.

Through January 8th 2017 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

The Company in Into These Woods - Photo credit Joan Marcus

The Company in Into These Woods – Photo credit Joan Marcus

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