Imagine if a group of your favorite childhood fairy tale characters all lived in the same neighborhood. Suddenly those familiar stories would begin to blend together as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Rapunzel and others interact in order to survive their everyday magical existence. "Into the Woods," Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's clever interweaving of these tales, propels the familiar characters forward on a journey of growth and self-discovery in a frothy first act; Act II offers a more sobering, thoughtful story line. The end result is simply magical, especially in Porchlight's delectable and dynamic revival.
Artistic Director L. Walter Stearns' fledgling theater company first produced the Tony Award-winning musical 10 years ago to great acclaim; this time around, thanks to a uniformly talented cast, full orchestration and state-of-the-art technical support, he has directed a show that looks and sounds better than ever. Musical Director Eugene Dizon has taught his talented actors/singers to tell the story through Sondheim's lush score and especially through his exquisite lyrics. The cast is supported by William J. Morey's lovely, whimsical costumes and Ian Zywica and Liviu Pasare's unbelievable scenic design dominated by a full moon upon which projections miraculously ebb and flow.
Stearns' brilliant cast is led by local favorite, Bethany Thomas, who achieves a new personal level of excellence as the Witch. Alternately bitchy diva and sensitive parent, Thomas uses her voice to caress Sondheim's difficult music with aplomb. Particularly beautiful are her duets with daughter Rapunzel (Jennifer Tjepkema), especially "Stay with Me." Brianna Borger's humane, honestly grounded portrayal of the Baker's Wife is terrific, nicely balanced by Steve Best's humorous, but pragmatic Baker. Their search for a way to satisfy the witch in order to have a child ("It Takes Two") establishes them as the show’s protagonists. Other fine performances come from Jeny Wasilewski's precocious Little Red and Scott J. Sumerak's innocent Jack, both of whom grow into wise adulthood by the end of the play.
Filled with sly naughtiness ("Hello, Little Girl"), hilarious hyperbole ("Agony"), lessons to be learned ("I Know Things Now"), and lessons that need repeating ("Children Will Listen," "No One is Alone"), this magical production will charm the child out of even the most hardened grownup. As the Baker's Wife sings, "That's what woods are for: for those moments in the woods," and everyone gains much for such moments in these woods.