Into The Woods In Central Park: My Review

Categories: Theater

Denis O'Hare, Amy Adams. Photo: Joan Marcus
Into The Woods--the 1986 Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine show about fairy tale characters coming together and learning lessons--is being done in the woods of Central Park in a gimmicky but vigorous production directed by Timothy Sheader with codirection by Liam Steel.

The show has always basically been a three-hour "I Want..." musical. (The first song literally has the cast singing "I wish...")

It's a fleshed-out "Weekend in The Country," setting up various needy figures who are childless, milkless, or hapless, and who embark on a scary but exciting trip to get what they need--usually from each other.

The result is episodically filled with humor, pathos, shtick and morals.

I never thought it was top-drawer Sondheim--shoot me for thinking the big message song "No One Is Alone" sounds a bit like a dark version of "Candy Man"--but there's appeal there as various parent-child relationships evolve amidst the unwieldy landscape of four interconnecting stories that weave in and out via singing and bantering.

In this outdoor version, the impressive set by John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour consists of steep wooden stairways flanked by trees and leaves, with a grotto for Rapunzel (Tess Soltau) to trill notes and drop her hair from.

The mostly imaginative costumes by Emily Rebholz are sassy and punky, with a hint of Addams Family in the woods.

And among the cast members, Donna Murphy excels as the Witch, especially scoring in her fiery "Last Midnight" number in which she makes all sorts of demands then disappears into a hole.

Sarah Stiles is wryly funny as an unkillable Little Red Ridinghood, complete with a crash helmet and an Instamatic camera.

And while Denis O'Hare is the endlessly frustrated Baker, Chip Zien--who played the part in the original production--is now his dad, proving that we all become our parents.

As the Baker's Wife, Oscar nominee Amy Adams doesn't go for sardonic humor as much as shmatte-wearing earnestness, and though the result tends toward blandness, she sings nicely.

The other performers range from very good to OK-but-not-as-good-as-someone-I-may-have-seen-in-one-of-the-other-versions.

Act Two brings a Giant--cleverly achieved via effects and Glenn Close's voice--which represents the phantom result of bad decisions and icky fears.

On come the deaths--and the metaphors.

And this version interestingly makes the narrator a child, who's working out his issues with his own father, as the end justifies the beans.

Some of this production's choices are head scratchers and a few scenes need better direction, but by taking bold steps, it fills these fractured fairy tales with enough yearning spirit to create a richly enjoyable musical meditation on parenting, responsibility, scapegoating, and compromise.

I'd see it.

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As an ITW fan I basically loved this production even though I have to agree on some remarks the NYT's Mr Brantley's review. I did not like Mr O'Hare's performance at all. He's got some sort of speaking problem that bothered me the whole show. Ms Murphy's vocal performance was not as impaccable as her performance in Tangled, but this is just me being picky. The rest of the show I thought to be extremily clever. Even the Kid as a narrator. I saw it alone on Aug 06 and I hope it moves to Broadway so I can take my ITW fan family to see it.


When I saw the original production, I was pretty sure the giant was meant to symbolize AIDS, a hot topic in 1986. Something about the randomness of the deaths, and the way the Baker's Wife gets stomped right after making love with the Prince. Don't know if that theory holds up today.

musto moderator editor

PS: The Public Theater is presenting this production at the Delacorte.


Maybe I would be if the Shakespeare Festival actually gave a shit about it's "free ticket policy".

The scalping is out of control meanwhile I've heard several people announce having tickets days in advance for the so called "free" show knowing damn well they're not paid members.

SouthernDave 1 Like

"The end justifies the beans."




PS: Spit out my bourbon on the "Candy Man' reference.


A wonderful, fair review! Much more on the money than Brantley.