Thursday, July 26, 2012

I MUST BEGIN MY JOURNEY: Commenter Emily attended the first preview of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods as part of this summer's NYC Shakespeare in the Park festival, and files this report:
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The reason that reviewers wait until the end of previews to see a show is that it takes time to work out the kinks in a production. Rehearsals aren't enough. Tech week isn't enough. The cast and crew need practice in front of an audience. I start by noting this because I saw "Into the Woods" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on its first preview, its first time up in front of a live judgmental New York audience. If you plan on seeing the production and don't want any spoilers, stop reading. Otherwise, here are a few thoughts:

The costumes were primarily modern with a funky/rock flair. Little Red was a skater, Cinderella a hipster, the step-sisters were leathered club kids, and Rapunzel went a tad bit 90s Courtney Love at the end. Some of the strongest moments were the large chorus numbers where the cast moved through the multi-leveled set with stylized gestures performed in unison. I thought the use of puppetry throughout was very effective. And I appreciated that the ensemble worked as one: the actors not directly involved in a scene maneuvered set pieces, manipulated puppets, or otherwise used props to help tell the story or aid the special effects.

Traditionally, the Narrator/Mysterious Man are doubled. This production splits them. Chip Zien (the original Baker) plays the Mysterious Man and Jack Broderick, a young boy, plays the Narrator. I was skeptical about a child narrator, but it works in part because Broderick has a good voice and is engaging. The frame changes completely when the stories seem to derive from the active imagination of a boy who has run away from home; this is especially true when things get out of hand, as they do. There are some great bits with a Wolverine action figure and a yellow-haired troll doll, in particular.

Sarah Stiles (Little Red) and Jessie Mueller (Cinderella) are both stellar. For me, Red steals the show. Ivan Hernandez (Wolf/Cinderella's Prince) has a beautiful voice and separates his characters well; please, let him work more. As for Amy Adams (Baker's Wife), as I said on twitter Tuesday night, she can sing, which was a question raised in our fantasy casting discussion for the movie. In the first few scenes, I worried that she suffered from the syndrome where movie actors try to be subtle onstage and as a consequence their movements and emotions are lost to the audience. It was either that or Adams didn't want the audience to recognize her; however, after her first scene with Cinderella, everything changed. I think that in an attempt to show some growth in the Baker's Wife pre-woods versus post-woods she played the initial scenes too realistic and it didn't work. This is musical theatre. This is Sondheim. This is fairy tale land. Her neighbor is a witch. Once Adams opened up, she was fine, but the first few scenes were kind of painful to watch.

Despite the kinks, it was an enjoyable evening. There were enough new ideas in the production to make me curious to see how they played out. It was wonderful, as it always is, to hear an audience laugh at all of the moments they should--the moments where I stopped laughing years ago because I know the set-up and I hear the punchline in my head before the actor speaks it.

Finally, a few notes on logistics: If you plan on seeing the production and don't have tickets, be warned that this is going to be a show that people wait overnight to see. I arrived in Central Park at 6:45am--tickets are given out at 1pm--and while I was safe, the people who arrived by 7:45 weren't and those near the front of the line arrived around 3am. This will get progressively worse as the run goes on. There is a senior line and a disability line; both have benches and less people. A friendly reminder that you can bring food and drink into the theater as long as it isn't in glass. I heartily encourage a picnic in the park prior. At the very least bring some wine with you. It's a long show and you might get thirsty.


  1. Genevieve12:19 PM

    Thanks for the report!  Can you tell us more about the puppets?  How were they used?

  2. Anonymous12:33 PM

    Thanks for the warning about the line. I saw "As You Like It" earlier this summer, and we arrived at 7 a.m. Looks like I'll be camping a little earlier this time.

  3. lisased12:33 PM

    Guest was me.

  4. So...midnight party on Central Park West, anyone?

  5. Thanks Emily!  I am absolutely dying to see this production - it's one of my favorite musicals ever, and I think the park is a perfect setting for it.  My husband is planning to arrive in the park at 4 am to get tickets, which I'm hoping will do the trick!

  6. Emily2:31 PM

    Sue, I think if he goes this week or next, it probably will, but not after. Also, you have to wait along CPW outside the 81st street entrance before 6am. At 6am a Public Theater staff person walks the line into the park. Pro tip: Andy's deli (212-799-3355) will deliver food in line in the park.

  7. Emily2:32 PM

    I arrived at 7:15 for "As You Like It" several weeks into the run and was fine. I would have been in danger/stanby line area if I had done so on Tuesday and it was the first preview.

  8. Emily2:38 PM

    Milky White was a puppet that was operated by various actors throughout. Likewise, the hen that Jack steals is a pretty cool machine/puppet. There were tree branches used very effectively as puppets for the scenes where Cinderella talks to birds. And the Giant was a puppet with actors operating the eyes and mouth as well as the hands. I thought the giant's hands were beautiful and worked very well (less so her eyes/mouth). Many times--like with the tree branch/birds--the props were stylized and used as a stand-in for more conventional set pieces, but I totally bought it.

  9. Great tips - thanks!

  10. lisased9:16 PM

    We're going the weekend of August 17. Should I just settle in at midnight? Oof.

  11. Maggie3:07 AM

    The park is a perfect setting - I saw a production in London at Regent's Park open air theatre a few summers ago. It was fantastiic. I wish I could find time to get up to NYC for this.

  12. Nancy6:12 AM

    Love this review. Intelligent and told me things I would have wanted to know. You are good at this!

  13. Thanks, Nancy!

  14. I hate to recommend the waiting overnight, but if you really want to see the show it is probably better to plan for all night than risk missing the production.
    Also, just in case anyone ends up in the maybe/maybe not zone for tickets: After The Public gives out all of the regular tickets, they do give a number of stand-by tickets. You have to come back at 7, but available tickets go to the stand-by ticket holders before the stand-by line (if that makes sense). I've done that before and have been fine.
    There is no harm is trying the virtual lottery, as well. I don't think they give out many tickets that way, but it's worth a shot.

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