Into The Woods – Shakespeare in the Park – Hot, Slimy, Wicked

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by: Sandi Durell

It’s worth the wait on the lines for the Public Theater’s free new Shakespeare in the Park production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

This new, creatively designed (John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour) and directed (Timothy Sheader and Lian Steel) fairy tale will keep you agog even though it’s three hours in duration. The jungle-gym type structure surrounded by trees allows for the actors to peek-a-boo here and there. The story is a re-imagined version of the Grimm characters. Red Riding Hood is hot and now larger than life in a bike helmet, short leather jacket and boots, a gutsy Sarah Stiles, and after meeting the sex-starved wolf Ivan Hernandez, who also portrays the role of Cinderella’s prince, sings “I Know Things Now” – mmmmm!

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The story is narrated by Jack Broderick, alternating with Noah Radcliffe, who’s a kid lost in the woods with a backpack, a new conceit for these creepy goings on. Central characters the Baker (Denis O’Hare) and his wife (Amy Adams, making her NY stage debut and who can really sing, but just needs a new wig) find them on the prowl to break their childless spell by bringing the Witch (a most magnificent and ugly Donna Murphy – in rags, vines, branches and long finger nails) “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold.”

And so we find the frumpy Cinderella with eye glasses ( the perfectly cast Jessie Mueller) morphing into ball gown and gold sequin heeled boots, pursued by her evil stepmother Ellen Harvey and two prostitute-looking stepsisters (Bethany Moore and Jennifer Rias) as well as the full-of-himself Prince charming with bow in hand in hot pursuit.

Jack (Gideon Glick) is very protective of his white cow but must part with her when his Mother, a replica of a Jewish mother (the comedic Kristine Zbornik) insists he sell the cow which he does but for magic beans that are strewn about by his angered mother when he returns. The clever beanstalk that grows is a series of open green umbrellas held by the actors, winding up the spiral staircase. Pure flights of fancy and imagination abound especially with the Giant (voiced by Glenn Close, the puppet design by Rachael Canning) as it peeks out among the treetops. The expressively designed lighting is by Ben Stanton.

The Witch’s daughter Rapunzel (Tess Soltau), lives in a cave-type dwelling high above the structure from which she can let down her yards and yards of golden hair but later meets an unfortunate ending. There is the zany “Mysterious Man” (Chip Zien) who appears and disappears and solid performances by a most talented cast of players.

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The highlight of this production is Donna Murphy, a gloriously voiced soprano who is scary looking, swathed in rags and prickly nails, still manages to give a 5-star performance poignantly singing “Stay With Me.” When she transforms in Act 2 into a mere human, losing her magical powers, she is, as we know her, the beautiful sensuous Murphy soaring with “Last Midnight” and the enchanting “Children Will Listen.”

The compelling brilliance of Sondheim and Lapine shine throughout and talk of this production coming to Broadway would be a fine addition to the great white way.

Emily Rebholz’ costumes are creatively whimsical and just plain fantastic.

If you can snag a ticket, it’s worth the effort to sit under the stars in beautiful Central Park at the Delacorte Theater to see “Into The Woods” running thru September 1st.

Photos: Joan Marcus

www.publictheater.org Information: 212 967-7555

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