Candy Galore in Magical Production – Deadline

Even in second- or third-rate production, In the woods is delicious, big and adorable and approachable and loaded with some of Stephen Sondheim’s most beautiful and endearing songs.

In a high-flying production, the 1986 musical is transcendent. And make no mistake: whatever else is remembered from this summer, we can say this: New Yorkers and visitors to this city currently have the chance to witness the transcendence of a chef- musical theater work.

Originally staged at New York City Center Encores!, the magnificent star-studded show by Lear deBessonet In the woods almost demanded a transfer to Broadway, with sold-out crowds packing downtown and those unwilling to enter. ascend of the curtain. Clearly, this In the woods preceded itself.

To say it keeps its promises is an understatement. A cast as fine as any on Broadway this year – Sara Bareilles, Brian D’Arcy James, Patina Miller, Phillipa Soo, Gavin Creel, Joshua Henry (and that’s just getting started) – musical direction and orchestrations that bathe some of Sondheim’s most breathtaking. pieces of music in arrangements and execution that cannot be bettered, a warm and charming lighting design that envelops the stage and soothes the audience as if leading us down a wooded path where things might not always be to be so agreeable, well, that In the woods has us entirely at his disposal. Resistance is futile.

Anyone who’s seen a production of this musical knows the gist, knows the classic songs – even Rob Marshall’s 2014 ho-hum movie version couldn’t entirely rob the piece of its charms – but unless you have memorized the marvelous 1991 PBS American Playhouse film adaptation of the original Broadway cast, you may have forgotten how absolutely funny James LaPine’s exquisite book is. In fact, even if you remember it too well, this cast and this director still have a thing or two to show you: with a breakneck pace and a cast that, for one person, combines glorious vocal performances with a comedic delivery that even the best comics would envy, In the woods is a gift that keeps on giving: you think you’ve seen his best with, say, Gavin Creel, as a big bad wolf lasciviously singing “Hello, Little Girl”, but then comes Miller, as a witch, unveiling a heartbreaking “Stay With Me” – a perfect rendition of parents’ biggest lament outdoors Fiddler“Sunrise/Sunset”.

And all this before reaching the happy ending – of Act I. The second half of In the woods, of course, shows what happens after the happy days, when the bills come due and the darkness reasserts itself. This is where the musical really finds its power, where Sondheim and Lapine remind us that the bitter succeeds the sweet and that, in the field of art, one or the other taste can be as deeply moving and rich than the other.

Act II is where the strings of Act I begin to tighten into slipknots. Here in the fairy tale woods, the baker (Brian D’Arcy James) and his wife (Sara Bareilles) finally have the baby that only cost them a single red cape (never mind that it belonged to a hopping little girl with a sick grandmother), a white cow (who was the beloved friend of a boy who had a knack for pissing off giants), a braid of yellow hair (of an imprisoned girl from a witch) and a golden slipper (from a poor commoner who was much happier before he found his prince).

As the various heroes and villains and just plain ordinary people from many fairy tales mix and mess up their plans, they blithely ignore the existential threat that will eventually mock all their jealousies, ambitions and grievances. A giant has been awakened, and the survival of one of our little fairy tales may well depend on its willingness to turn against each other. Some do, and it is, yes, sinister (even if it prompts one of the all-time great blame anthems: “Your Fault”.

A lesser musical could rest on Act II “Your Fault” and catch its breath all the way to the curtain, but In the woods is as unstoppable as that spunky little girl with a red hood, or those two prince charmings with only their quests for love bouncing around their empty heads. Before everything is resolved at the end of the tale – a happy ending which, unlike the fake one just before intermission, has its price – In the woods will present us with a quartet of the greatest incidental numbers from Sondheim’s unparalleled catalog: “Last Midnight,” the angry, truthful hymn with the witch (Miller, in a glorious voice) giving the lie to our ever-proper heroes ( “You are not good, you are not bad, you are fair pleasantThen comes the tearful father-son “No More”, the parent-child reassurance and hard lessons of the incomparable “No One Is Alone”, and finally the one number that could bring this masterpiece to its unprecedented climax: “Children Will Listen,” a song of expansive generosity, though terribly hard-earned.

Much of the cast of the excellent Encores! the staging – with the concert-style presentation – has made the trip to Broadway, and that’s a very good thing. Bareilles, Creel (both wolf and prince), newcomers Julia Lester (as the very brave Red Riding Hood) and Cole Thompson (as Jack) shine vocally and in their comedic performances – I repeat, that In the woods is terrifically funny – and the new additions to the cast are top-notch: Phillipa Soo as Cinderella, Brian D’Arcy James taking over from Neil Patrick Harris as the baker, Joshua Henry as one of the princes (quite the match for the scene-stealing Creel in the big, princely one-upmanship comedy number “Agony”), and, in the all-important witch role, Patina Miller, delivering sumptuous renditions of “Stay With Me “, “Last Midnight” and “The children will listen.

And the rest of the great ensemble is faultless, but specific mention should be made of the wonderfully articulated cow puppet Milky White, designed by James Ortiz and performed during the show reviewed by stunt double Cameron Johnson. And performed is the exact word – Johnson, standing in for Kennedy Kanagawa, not only harnesses the Milky skeleton in fascinating ways, but “acts out” the beast’s emotions, an eye-catching sight in itself, another treat in a production filled with them.

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