note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey
New Rep is on a roll. They have a new theater in Watertown (at the brand new Arsenal Arts Center) and for their last production in Newton, they get up close and personal with INTO THE WOODS. Chances are you won’t get another opportunity to see the Sondheim musical in such a small space---which is definitely an advantage if you love Sondheim. His fairy tale characters enter and exit through the audience so that, if you’re lucky, you could be nose to nose with a ferocious wolf!
I’ll bet when you hear about “reversing the curse,” you think baseball. Well, an even more compelling curse gets reversed in INTO THE WOODS—but not without a toll. James Lapine’s wholeheartedly grisly book (in the spirit of those grim brothers) for the fairy tale musical explores what happens after the prince gets the girl, after Little Red emerges from the belly of the beast and after Jack escapes the fee-fie-fo-fum giant. It’s not happily ever after for Cinderella or anyone else.
I will live happily ever after, though, having seen Todd Alan Johnson as the extremely seductive Wolf. Little Red is right. He’s plenty scary but very exciting at the same time: Think a fairy tale Don Giovanni. While it’s nice that Johnson comes back in Act II as the agonizing prince, were I running things at New Rep, I would have brought back the Wolf, script or no script. He’s reason enough to see the show. (If you saw New Rep’s extraordinary THREEPENNY OPERA last season, you saw Johnson cut quite a swath as Mack The Knife, and the season before, he killed and thrilled as Sweeney Todd.)
Veronica J. Kuehn is adorably insufferable as Little Red Riding Hood, roaming through Peter Colao’s enormous pages, as the stories start to intertwine. Evan Harrington and Leigh Barrett are two of the musical standouts, as the Baker and his wife. Director Rick Lombardo and music director Todd Gordon have managed to cast singers who are fine actors/ or is it actors who are fine singers---suffice it to say, the show works musically as well as dramatically. Steve Bergman’s crackerjack musicians sounded like a whole orchestra.
Nancy Leary’s costumes are funny and clever with the possible exception of Nancy Carroll’s sexy duds, which make her look like one of the mermaids from Bette Midler’s world tour. Kudos to Kelli Edwards for her tongue in cheek choreography, which added oodles of oomph. Oh, did I mention that Wolf?