StageScan Pick: Into the Woods

Fiasco Theater’s off-Broadway hit production of Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the Woods arrived at the Menier Chocolate Factory to almost unanimous four-star pro reviews.

Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) described a “classic Brothers Grimm pastiche” and Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) noted it’s one of their “most frequently revived” ascribing this to “a heady mix of escapist fantasy, violence and brilliant wordplay”. Neil Norman (Express) described a “musical masterpiece… wise and cynical, funny, frightening and sad.” Even a less enthusiastic Paul Taylor (Independent) admitted: “Fiasco make a spirited case for it”.

He enjoyed a “playfully pared-down” production, “putting the emphasis firmly on performance, text and story” and Lukowski felt the usual “fancy costumes and sets” had been “stripped away: all the better for us to see” the show’s “biting undertones”.

Taylor described stage design resembling “the shattered innards of some grand piano”. Lukowski reported a “discreetly Brechtian” feel, with cast “clad mostly in brown and white” who “double as the musicians” and “look like… a tide of humanity”.

Norman saw “no weak moments in the performances” while Lukowski found the ensemble “thoroughly loveable” and Taylor described “engaging wit and heartfelt warmth”. Among many performers variously singled out for praise, most consistently highlighted was Jessie Austrian, whom Taylor found “very funny and affecting”.

Taylor observed arrangements giving “pride of place” to the “upright piano” and its “wonderful sounds”. While Hitchings missed “the intricate textures of Sondheim’s tunes”, Taylor particularly praised “the depth of emotion in the singing” of Claire Karpen and Vanessa Reseland. He was among those feeling “the relative spareness” highlighted “the knotty, strutting nature of the music and the lyrics”. Hitchings agreed “the subversiveness of the lyrics” is “palpable”.

He judged the whole “earnest but often witty… full of humour” and “eloquent”. Taylor enjoyed the “big-hearted improvisatory feel” and felt it “manages to be joyously ingenious and teasingly incongruous without seeming too pleased with itself”, declaring it “a rather delightful surprise”. Lukowski agreed “It’s utterly charming”.

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