***** Anyone who reads me on a regular basis, knows that I am strangely attracted to the works of Stephen Sondheim. I am always in awe of the lyrics this wordsmith creates and how they make sense when he puts it to music. No matter the subject matter- be it would be assassins, Gang members or even characters from the nursery rhymes and stories we grew up on. Yes, that is what “Into The Woods”. now onstage at the intimate Mercury Theater is about. Or is it?
Sondheim who works well with book writer, James Lapine brings us characters from The Brothers Grimm, including the Bake and his wife, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack, The Giant and of course, the Witch to a new level. This production, being presented by The Hypocrites company as what is called a “rental” to fill out the 2014 Season at the Mercury, now under the leadership of L. Walter Stearns, Those who know Walter well, know that this musical adventure has a warm spot in his heart. The Hypocrites are known for their taking theater to a new ( often playful) level and under the direction of Geoff Button, they prove this to be accurate.
They have a playful set ( William Boles), solid lighting effects ( Heather Gilbert) adorable costume concepts ( Sally Dolembo) and sound by Joshua Horvath. The set resembles a playground in the woods with small chairs on both sides of the stage area. These are where the actors sit when not in the story and there are tons of balloons which when they first appear will knock your sox off. This troupe is known to be full of surprises in what they bring to the stage. In the past, when they have attempted musical pieces, often Operettas, they have failed to find voices to fit the parts. I must say, in this production, they have exceeded my expectations by having actors ( important to the story being told properly) who truly can sing. I mean SING!!!!
The story is simple. We are in a small town surrounded by The Woods. The Baker ( a sparkling performance by Joel Ewing) and his wife ( deftly handled by Allison Hendrix) who are childless due to a curse that was placed on their house by their next door neighbor, the Witch ( The delightful Hillary Marren, who should shy away from trying to imitate Bernadette Peters and bring her own voice to the role).
They are given a chore to obtain certain items in the woods that if blended properly will allow the curse to be reversed and so they journey off “Into The Woods” to do this, meeting along the way, Jack ( an adorable and very playful portrayal by Aubrey McGrath) and some Princes, Will Skrip ( Cinderella’s) and Michael Brown ( Rapunzel’s). Both of these men also play other roles as do many of the actors in this very busy 2 and a half hours of sheer mayhem. Kate Harris as Jack’s Mother and and Cinderella’s Stepmother, Sarah Bockwell as both Cinderella and Rapunzel, Hannah Dawes and Hillary Marren as the step-sisters, and Blake Montgomery as the “Story-Teller/Mysterious Man. In fact, almost everyone plays dual roles ( at least) except The Baker and The Mysterious Man and it seems that almost everyone plays “Milky White”, the cow ( which is under normal circumstances a doll).
What is important about this production is that despite all the zaniness and the clever one liners, we are open to see a story that teaches us about the consequences of our actions and that the choices we make can determine the future we will live in. The songs are really part of the story telling experience and for the most part will not stick with you, except, possibly the title song-”Into The Woods” and out of the Woods and “Happy Ever After!” I WISH!
The production is one where we do not see the musicians under the direction of Matt Deitchman who amazingly uses his four musicians to make the music come alive and not drown out the actors on stage and the choreography ( Katie Spelman) and fight Choreography ( Alex Tey) work to perfection as they move about the intimate Mercury stage. Special kudos to Eleanor Kahn, for her prop design and the undertaking of finding so many items as well as making sure they were where they needed to be at all times. With a zany bunch like the- Hypocrites, that could be a tough assignment.
“Into The Woods” will continue at Chicago’s Mercury Theater located at 3745 N. Southport Ave. ( in Wrigleyville) through March 30th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $22-$59 ( there are no bad seats in this theater) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-325-1700 or online atwww.MercuryTheaterChicago.com, where you can also learnmore about the 2014/2015 season and some of the great dining spots in the area.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Into The Woods”.