Monday, May 19, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Witty, Worthy WOODS

Sondheim fans never tire of his ingenious wordplay or his intricate melodies, embellished to dovetail with his seemingly endless rhymes. Nowhere are those cheeky rhymes more playful than in INTO THE WOODS. We have reason to rejoice this spring: The Lyric Stage’s production of INTO THE WOODS (extended through June 15th) revels in Sondheim and James Lapine’s delicious, sardonic deconstruction of Grimm’s famous fairy tales.

The first act concludes with happy endings all around but Act II reveals the rest of the story and it’s not so “happy ever after.” The princes get bored. Rapunzel goes bonkers and a giant climbs down that beanstalk looking for revenge. Sondheim’s “trick of the woods” is matched by the magic from director Spiro Veloudos and his creative team.

David Towlun’s denuded forest seems to be changing shape behind Scott Clyve’s haunting, chiaroscuro lighting! Elisabetta Polito’s costumes not only reflect their wearer’s character but they enhance the story. (Wait ‘til you see Little Red’s cape for Act II!) Music director Catherine Stornetta gets wonderful singing from the entire cast. (Sometimes you find that good singing doesn’t necessarily mean good acting but Veloudos’ company marries the two.)

Will McGarrahan is just wry enough as the narrator and slyly mysterious as the wizened old man. Erica Spyres makes Cinderella just sweet enough but not cloying. Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Sam Simahk are hilariously self-absorbed as the “charming” but not “sincere” princes. John Ambrosino and Lisa Yuen are a spirited Baker and his wife. Maritza Bostic is adorably stubborn as Little Red. Her scenes with Parent as the swaggering wolf are irresistible. Every performance is a delight, from Maureen Keiller’s nasty stepmother to Jeff Mahoney’s self-important steward.

It seems peculiar, in a show where every moment is a joy, to single out one or two performers as standouts when every actor already stands out in relief, (perhaps, in my case, it’s because I haven’t always loved what other actors have done with the parts) but in the Lyric’s WOODS, Gregory Balla gives a faultless performance as Jack. He makes the boy far more than a dimwitted dolt. He’s so deadpan earnest that you can forgive his naïveté and his bad manners where giants are concerned.

Aimee Doherty gives a daring performance as the witch. She’s funny, she’s wicked. She can deliver the patter song about the beans with panache and she can turn on a dime in Act II when she’s on the losing side. She stares, dumbstruck, and your heart goes out to her. Her tour de force is one of the thousands of reasons to see the Lyric’s INTO THE WOODS. In short, it’s “unmistakable bliss.”