Orange County Theatre Reviews

(Left to Right) Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Kim Crosby, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters in a scene from "Into the Woods" at the Martin Beck Theatre.

(Left to Right) Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Kim Crosby, Chip Zien, and Bernadette Peters in a scene from “Into the Woods” at the Martin Beck Theatre.

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

A celebration of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods will be presented on November 9th at California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts.   The evening will be part conversation, and part musical selection and (drumroll please) will feature original cast members Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien, Bernadette Peters, Robert Westenberg, Kim Crosby, Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, and of course, the inestimable composer and lyricist Mr. Sondheim himself, as well as Bernadette Peters. So essentially, every character you immediately think of when you think of Into the Woods.  

 For those unfamiliar with it, Into the Woods is a musical that intertwines the plots and the “after happily ever afters” of a number of well-known Brothers Grimm fairy tales such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and others. Winning several Tony Awards and earning critical acclaim, the show was popular enough to inspire multiple stage productions, a live performance DVD release, a televised production, a Broadway revival in 2002, and a film adaptation that will be coming out this Christmas.

Now far be it from me to speak for an enormous array of people, but I will tell you how it set up shop in *my* heart so effectively. While it is entirely possible for people to bring their 7-year-olds to this show, this is a thinking story. I am pretty sure that most people will be able to follow the plot, but despite the magical universe in which everything takes place, the main characters are given some very real personalities and some very real motivations. The detail and thought that went into helping us understand each person’s personal struggle and journey in the musical is amazing. This is due in large part to the lyrical work of Stephen Sondheim. The songs are just…deep. I mean, complex and all over the place and coming back together again and exactly the way an actual person’s thought process would be if they were truly thinking through that particular situation. When the characters sing, I don’t really feel as though they are trying to sing to impress the audience. I feel as though they are singing through their own mental blocks.   And while the characters are real and identifiable, there is something inherently comedic about listening to someone like Cinderella internally justify why she takes certain actions.

Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters and James Lapine in rehearsal for the original Broadway production Photo by Photofest

Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters and James Lapine in rehearsal for the original Broadway production Photo by Photofest

 Into the Woods was done back in 1987, before everyone and their mother did a version of what “really” happened in the fairy tale world. Some of these stories worked well (Wicked) and others did not (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters). In any case, Into the Woods was interesting, dramatic, and funny.   All the things that are needed at certain points in a stage show. It was darker than the fairy tales told to me in my kindergarten class, partly because I think they wanted to make it a more accurate reflection of reality and partly because they reincorporated certain elements of the original fairy tales. And the play is acted very, very well. Ms. Peters played the part to perfection if there is such a thing. Stephen Sondheim has been quoted as saying, “Bernadette is flawless as far as I’m concerned. I can’t think of anything negative.”   Stephen Sondheim is not known for passing out compliments like candy at Halloween. Everyone in the original cast was on top of it. Joanna Gleason won the Tony Award that year for her role as The Baker’s Wife.   Everyone stood apart from everyone else as their own vitally important, independently motivated, and surprisingly memorable character.

 Finally, the music. If you are only listening to one soundtrack from Sondheim, choose Into the Woods. So much of it is just so eerie, made eerier by Bernadette Peters. The music is largely introspective, and while there is a definite beauty to listening to numbers like “Giants in the Sky” or “Last Midnight” the musical is short on the big band Disney numbers kids love.


Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason, and Bernadette Peters in the original Broadway production Photo by Martha Swope

The November celebration is going to be a giant interview combined with songs, not a full-on show. And while I understand the desire to see Broadway performers in person singing songs they no longer sing live, I recommend to everyone you see the actual show first. Not just because the show is the show, but the understanding that comes from the songs is so much more apparent if you can see it in the story’s context. If you can get ahold of the recorded 1987 production, you will probably form a connection with the characters that would be beneficial to you if you should be in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on November 9th at 6 pm.

Side note: Are you aware of any other “happily ever after” stories? Good ones? Bad ones? Leave your comments below, and thanks for reading! 

Ticket Info at the website:

 Location & Dates :  

800 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626


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