REVIEW:  Take a wondrous romp ‘Into the Woods’

What lies beyond happily ever after?

From David Patrick Kelly’s initial rich and spirited vocals as Narrator uttering the classic line, ‘Once upon a Time’ from a treelike podium, it is easy to see that Into the Woods is no ordinary fairytale.  To Stephen Sondheim’s complex tapestry of famous storytelling numbers ranging from stirring ballads to catchy compositions, Into the Woods brings together some of literature’s most famous fairytale characters on a multi-arc journey through an enchanted wood.  It’s a place where fortune smiles, but like every fairy tale, the road winds with surprise twists, turns and resounding life lessons for adults and children alike.

INTO THE WOODS 12 : The Company of Into the Woods Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Directed shrewdly by Lear deBessonet, seamlessly choreographed by Lorin Latarro with meticulous music direction by John Bell, the Grammy and Tony award-winning musical Into the Woods continues direct from Broadway live and in person at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, April 2.  The musical is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Into the Woods boasts some absorbing special effects and Tyler Micoleau’s affective and multicolored lighting enlivens David Rockwell’s moving and immersive set with includes an onstage orchestra and a monstrous full moon.

INTO THE WOODS 25 : David Patrick Kelly Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Storytelling has never sounded better with David Patrick Kelly at the helm.  Kelly brings gravitas and zealously delivers this humorous, adventurous, and poignant tale which includes a baker and his wife’s unfortunate encounter with a witch that drives them to embark on an unexpected journey.  Into the Woods was revived on Broadway last year and with that, the characters seem more boisterous, the jokes sleeker, and cast’s quick witted comic timing and bold and hilarious adlibbing enrich the characters and their plights while occasionally breaking the 4th wall. 

INTO THE WOODS 21 : (L to R) Jason Forbach and Gavin Creel Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The chemistry between this savvy cast crackles and they master Sondheim’s technically challenging harmonies in several collaborative numbers including the musical’s title track.  Andrea Hood’s edgy, vibrant and lavish costumes are well suited for Nancy Opel as Cinderella’s stepmother and Ta’nika Gibson and Brooke Ishibashi as Cinderella’s fashion conscious stepsisters.  Opel’s sarcastic fervor and tight lipped Cheshire smile is reminiscent of Jennifer Saunders and the conceited trio relishes in their own villainy.  Gibson and Ishibashi is a pair of self-absorbed bookends who comically parade in their excessive glory, unaware of how foolish they seem.  Diane Phelan impressively depicts an exasperated and contemplative Cinderella, her soaring and angelic vocals shine for the deliberative, A Very Nice Prince and conspiratorially for On the Steps of the Palace

INTO THE WOODS 1 0 : (L to R) Gavin Creel and Katy Geraghty Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The show’s edgy and coordinating costumes are also prevalent on a pair of egotistical and coiffed Prince Charmings in dazzling fuchsia by Jason Forbach and in brilliant yellow by Gavin Creel.  Every bit the scene stealing pair, the two prance and pose like rock stars, their comic timing on point for the backhanded and love struck, Agony.  Creel also utilizes some of that lively charm and Jim Carrey-esque energy with some menacing glee for Hello Little Girl with Katy Geraghty in a surly little scowl as blunt, daring, and voracious Red Riding Hood.  Geraghty’s strong willed Riding Hood is fierce and exhibits incredible dry wit throughout the production, but especially with Sebastian Archelus as the proud and humble Baker and Stephanie J. Block as the conflicted Baker’s Wife in a bit of physical humor involving a loaf of bread.  Archelus and Block are married in real life which only enhances their playful and affectionate duet, It takes Two.  Block emotive eyes and desperate demeanor draws sympathy toward her plight, even in her occasionally warped reasoning for Maybe There’s Magic.

INTO THE WOODS 1: (L to R) Aymee Garcia, Cole Thompson, and Kennedy Kanagawa Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Cole Thompson is wonderful as idealistic and naïve Jack in an amazing rendition of Giants in the Sky and has some sweet and humorous scenes with Aymee Garcia as Jack’s protective and practical mother as well as Kennedy Kanagawa, who is one of a few lively personalities depicted splendidly through puppetry.

Montego Glover glides along the stage maliciously as The Witch, but maybe unlike one found in any other fairytale.  Glover depicts this harsh and complex practicality with vigor, finesse, and perhaps as a wearied storyteller all her own.  The Witch’s multi-faceted demeanor stuns in a harrowing rendition of Stay with Me and in a riveting The Last Midnight.

INTO THE WOODS 7 : Montego Glover Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Into the Woods made its musical debut in 1987 and there is a reason it still thrives over 35 years later.  It still has that timeless wonder, humor and charm, but more importantly, it metaphorically encapsulates realistic complexities of life in a fairytale that reaches happily ever after…and beyond. 

The Grammy and Tony award-winning musical Into the Woods continues direct from Broadway live and in person at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, April 2.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage brings beauty and powerful perspective to Sondheim’s ‘Pacific Overtures’

Surrounded by wild pink cherry blossoms, Lyric Stage reveals a telling story with Stephen Sondheim’s stirring musical Pacific Overtures, a historical production set in 1853 when a mysterious ship drops anchor on Japan’s remote and tranquil island.  Told entirely from Japan’s perspective, it’s an important tale about conflict, betrayal, and the price of progress.

Skillfully directed by Spiro Veloudos, musically-directed by Jonathan Goldberg, and choreographed by Micheline Wu, Lyric Stage presents Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures through June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Please Hello

Jeff Song and The cast of Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

The Lyric Stage has a knack for surprises.  They take on a variety of shows throughout the season, from contemporary to original productions to traditional musicals, but one thing they all have in common is it is hard to imagine how the show will play out onstage.  Though rarely performed, Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is an unpredictable, multi-layered musical that delivers an unforgettable message about power and prosperity.

Between scenic designer Janie E Howland’s hand painted set, the sloping wild pink cherry blossoms, Gail Astrid Buckley’s rich and historically-accurate costumes, and Karen Perlow’s clever light design, Lyric Stage brings to life Japan’s beautiful and increasingly tumultuous landscape.  This show does an excellent job at depicting a sympathetic, humorous, and at times, haunting look of how Japan saw the outside world.

Choreographer Micheline Wu’s reflects Japan’s distinct culture in sharp choreography, integrating samurai tradition while carefully letting a bit of westernization seep in.  Kai Chao as relentless Commodore Perry struts into a patriotic, humorous, and cunning Lion Dance while Wu herself, who also depicts Tamate and other roles, captures Tamate’s raw vulnerability in a fan dance during the reflective number, There is No Other Way.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures cast

The cast of Lyric Stage’s ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enthusiastically recited by Lisa Yuen, who was last seen on the Lyric Stage as the mesmerizing Spider Woman in Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Yuen delicately balances the tale she tells with a mix of humor and urgency, occasionally stepping into the story itself.  That could be an awkward transition, but it’s one that Yuen takes on with ease.

Carl Hsu portrays Kayama, a quietly conflicted fisherman thrust into the spotlight to solve a seemingly impossible issue.  Hsu’s wistful, soaring vocals reflect his alienation as western culture attempts to take hold in Bowler Hat.  Inquisitive and awestruck, he struggles to adjust to Japan’s seeming future.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima

Carl Hsu as Kayama and Sam Hamashima as Manjiro in ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Sam Hamashima portrays Massachusetts fisherman prisoner Manjiro, a man with mysterious intentions.  Hamasima and Hsu show low key camaraderie as they improvise together during the number PoemsGary Thomas Ng takes on several roles, but proves to be at his funniest as the Grandmother in the lighthearted number, Welcome to Kanagawa.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Welcome to Kanagawa

Alexander Holden, Gary Thomas Ng, Karina Wen, and Kai Chao in Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

Change can be painful.  From a remote, peaceful, self-sufficient island to an economic powerhouse to the home of the 2020 Olympics, Japan has worn many faces and overcame many obstacles.  Pacific Overtures depicts the raw emotion and a sympathetic perspective on what that might have felt like along the way.

Lyric Stage continues Stephen Sondheim’s moving musical, Pacific Overtures through Sunday, June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.