Into the Woods is a piece that opens with â€œonce upon a timeâ€ and ends with a wish for happy ever after. Sondheim and Lapine’s 1986 musical is almost two shows in one, so drastic is the change between acts. On Friday, April 29, Seattle Musical Theater began their run of this famous and somewhat tricky work under the direction of Victoria Webb. I was lucky enough to witness the opening night, and it left me with me with a lot to think about.
The first act was very well executed for the most part. I didn’t care for the way each character’s house had a large written label, but the rest of the set was brilliant. Through clever use of projections and moving cutouts, Lighting Designer Richard Schaefer and Set Designer Jason Phillips created a magnificent looking Deep Dark Woods. I cannot emphasis enough how great it looked; creating just enough shadow for spooky effect, but never so much as to obscure the actor’s faces. In fact, the lighting was good all around.
The acting and singing were quite good as well. The wolf in particular, played by Josh Ryder, was amazing. Hello Little Girl is a difficult song because it’s basically the only chance to establish the Wolf’s character, and as such requires a great deal of emotion and energy. Ryder managed both with aplomb and was easily my favorite part of the first act. Lauren Smith also deserves an honorable mention as Rapunzel – she has a beautiful singing voice and looked perfect for the part.
After intermission of course, everything changed. Act II of Into the Woods is a real challenge for a director, because so much of it is spent talking about things the audience can’t see. It’s just kind of slow after the fast-paced comedy of Act I.
Fortunately, the Director, her creative team, and the cast all rose to challenge. As Ms. Webb put it when I spoke with her, the second act is about taking responsibility; both for one’s self and the greater community. There was a subtle yet definite change in mood as the characters began to face the consequences of their actions from earlier in the show.
The best singing of Act II was easily from Dallas Milholland as the Witch in Last Midnight. The way she swayed back and forth while singing made her more frightening than any magic powers. In fact, Last Midnight showed quite clearly that the Witch’s real power is her force of will, not any kind of supernatural trickery.
The second half of Into The Woods is simply much grimmer than the first, and it seemed appropriate considering current events. As the giant rampaged through the kingdom, it was easy to think of the earthquake in Japan or the extreme poverty facing countries like Haiti. The final number was a spark of hope that brought back some of the upbeat energy of the first act (and made sure the audience wasn’t sent home in despair). The last few minutes really brought across the show’s message of caring for those around you and elevated the piece, ending on just the right note.
Into the Woods runs through May 21, Friday-Sunday, at Seattle Musical Theater out in Sand Point. Tickets are available here. In keeping with the themes of community and responsibility, the show is being put on in cooperation with the Plymouth Housing Group (PHG): an organization that provides permanent housing to homeless and very low income people in downtown Seattle. Marked donation bins will be set up at each performance to accept any non perishable food and other necessities; toiletries, light bulbs, etc. Alternatively, Into the Woods souvenirs are available for sale in the lobby, with all the proceeds going to PHG.