Sondheim’s Into the Woods, with its incorporation of fractured fairy tales, may seem like kid’s stuff at first glance. In reality, it’s anything but.
The first act weaves together a number of familiar fairy tales through a quest narrative that involves a Baker and his wife securing a number of objects (a cape as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold, etc.) to undo a curse, courtesy of the witch next door, which has left them childless.
The first act closes with the fulfillment of wishes for the heroes, and deserved comeuppance for the villains. However, the distinction between heroes and villains is blurred as things devolve quickly in the dark second act, when our heroes (still wishing for more) must reckon with the consequences of securing their wishes. A number of weighty themes are explored: moral relativism, isolation, loss, and parent/child relationships.
Into the Woods paints this last issue as especially bleak: whether overprotective, indifferent, or absent, parents can’t seem to avoid inflicting lasting damage on their children. Ultimately, it remains up to the individual to decide what’s morally right, though, as one of the final songs affirms, “no one is alone.”
Despite such heavy themes, Into the Woods remains a very fulfilling show; to their credit, the Playhouse cast conveys the emotional highs and lows with equal gusto. Though the performances in the first act were a bit uneven (perhaps just some bad juju?) things definitely picked up in the second half, and the cast delivered when it counted. The orchestra (under the assured baton of Blake Peterson) and singers ably tackled a notoriously difficult Sondheim score in this ambitious production.