What if happily ever after isn’t what you thought it would be? Writers Theatre opens its 2019/2020 season with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” which explores the dark Brothers Grimm fairy tale characters you remember, but with surprising twists. You’ll be enchanted by the witch, laugh at the scene-stealing cow, cry with the Baker, and be awed by the stunning production directed by Gary Griffin.
Stepping into the new “in-the-round” Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theater, you are immersed in the magical woods, complete with hanging branches, lights, flying birds, and a stunning tree atop a piano, where the musicians are set into the backdrop for the evening to perform the celebrated score. This is part of the charm of the impressive set design by the “Into the Woods” creative team. The round theater also allows for a fully interactive experience, with characters popping in and out from the audience throughout the evening.
“Into the Woods” follows Little Red Riding Hood, the childless Baker and his wife, Jack and his beanstalk, Cinderella, a Wicked Witch and her Rapunzel, and more familiar characters as they set out into the dark woods to conquer their fears, break a curse, and discover if what they always wished for is what they truly want. The diverse casting by Geoff Button is pure magic with stunning and innovative costume design by Mara Blumenfeld.
The performance opens with the Narrator, Michael Halberstam, co-founder and Artistic Director of Writers Theatre. He leads us through the interwoven plot lines of the evening that take unexpected twists from the fairy tales you know and love. In the woods we see the Baker (Michael Mahler) and his wife (Brianna Borger) meet Cinderella (Ximone Rose), who isn’t so impressed now that she has her prince (Ryan McBride). The hilarious Little Red Riding Hood (Lucy Godínez) realizes she has some growing up to do in the woods after her horrible run in with the Wolf (Matt Edmonds). The lovable but gullible Jack (Ben Barker) and his crowd-favorite milky white cow (Mary Poole) get into big — and we mean big — trouble. It’s hard to pick a favorite among the large cast, as they all deliver amazing performances and have perfect comedic timing (who knew the Witch, played by Bethany Thomas, could be so funny and also make us cry, too?).
From the brilliant performances to a truly engaging setting in a wonderfully modern theater, no detail has been overlooked. Escape “Into the Woods” for a truly captivating evening at Writers Theatre, on limited engagement through Sept. 29.
Macaire Douglas lives in Chicago with her husband and two sons. She proudly supports Share Our Spare, a local nonprofit that collects goods for children in need.