Arts & Entertainment, Features, The Muse

REVIEW: BU Stage Troupe enchants with ‘Into the Woods’

With a film adaptation of the original “Into the Woods” slated for release on Dec. 25, directors Brittany Jenkins and Joe McLaughlin and the very talented cast and crew of the Boston University Stage Troupe had to find a way to make their version of the classic musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine faithful to the spirit of the original, and yet unique and memorable at the same time. This showed in their BU Parent’s Weekend performance at the Tsai Performance Center on Saturday night.

“Into the Woods,” which debuted on Broadway in 1987 and has returned to the stage in numerous revivals, intermixes stories and characters from several Brothers Grimm fairytales. The main characters are drawn from the stories of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella,” and are brought together through an original tale of a baker and his wife looking to start a family after a witch places a curse on their family making it impossible for them to do so.

The design choices — although justifiably limited seeing as Jenkins and McLaughlin had to put the play together in a matter of weeks — were in no way hindered by said limitations. The choice of costumes, based on clothing from the 1940s and 1950s, showed how timeless the fairy tale characters and stories truly are. The concept behind Little Red Riding Hood’s (Cameron Barney) changes in hair and wardrobe symbolizing her growth and development as a character was a particularly interesting touch.

The cast of “Into the Woods” sings during their Saturday performance at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University. PHOTO BY ALEX MASSET/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The cast of “Into the Woods” sings during their Saturday performance at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University. PHOTO BY ALEX MASSET/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The makeup for characters such as The Witch (Abi Oshins), Jack’s Mother (Brittany Martin) and the Narrator/Mysterious Man (Victor Kholod), with their pronounced aged features, or the Wolf (Elliott Hanson), with his fake fur and slicked greaser hair, matched the aesthetic choices made by the costume department, further establishing this production’s originality.

The set was equally creative, albeit simple due to the aforementioned time constraints. The leaves on the trees were made of various pieces of cloth tied to the branches, giving the woods a new set of colors, and the main tree served as both stage and backdrop.

In terms of casting, the actors were perfect for their roles. Special mention goes to Nathan Wilgeroth’s Jack, who transitioned beautifully from an innocent child to an increasingly more mature — yet confused — adult as the plot progressed.

Oshins’ Witch, whose role in the story was a tad unclear during the first half of Act One, was impeccably represented as the tragic character she becomes in Act Two. Hanson mastered his double role as the shallow and fickle Cinderella’s Prince and the eccentric and alluring Wolf. Both Andy Moeller’s Baker and Kelly Duffy’s Baker’s Wife, fully embodied characters that were not as innocent as they initially seemed. And Barney’s Red Riding Hood expertly transitioned from sweet and childish to scarred and somewhat unstable after her run-in with the wolf.

All of the actors and actresses mentioned, as well as the supporting cast, were impressive in the way they handled their characters, presenting them as unique and fresh, rather than rehashed versions of characters we’ve been used to since our childhood.

The musical numbers were amazing, not only due to the vocal talents of the actors, but also because of the strength of the pit orchestra. Although Act One had few standout numbers — with the exception of “I Wish” from the “Act One Prologue,” “First Midnight,” “Hello Little Girl” and “Giants in the Sky” — all the musical numbers in Act Two were remarkable and memorable, especially from “Your Fault” to the end of the production. The actors’ delivery was the perfect blend of singing and acting that the musical required, truly cementing each performer as the perfect fit for his or her role.

All in all, Stage Troupe’s “Into the Woods” was a wonderful experience to watch. It was an indicator of just how amazing the fruits of their labor are. Future performances of BU Stage Troupe include “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 and “Marat/Sade” on Nov. 13 to 15 at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena. Tickets are $6 and can be purchased on Eventbrite the week prior to performances or at the door.

One Comment

  1. I avoided reading any reviews before seeing this film, so I’d have no expectations or prejudices. And in the opening moments, I thought I’d been rewarded. This was clearly nothing typical from Hollywood. The characters in period dress, singing their dialog, and the surprise of seeing Tracey Uhlman! I was delighted to see her attached to this project. It bode well! The camera focused on the actors, and not the CGI. Since I knew nothing of the story, I wondered if it would be another LES MISERABLES. But as it unfolded, the “sing-song” lyrics that I hoped would evolve into grand musical numbers got a bit tiresome, and a slow leak began to hiss from my enthusiasm. It needed more…something. OK, so we’ve been introduced to childhood fairy tale themes, and maybe they’re going to weave them together somehow. Well they attempted to, but not in an imaginative way. Merle Streep as the witch. I thought there might have been a dash of Margaret Hamilton in her initial appearance, but no…Streep was taking it elsewhere. The first glimmer of genuine music came with Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf. Cheesy makeup, but I can overlook that, the scene still works. I thought Chris Pine as the Prince was the stand-out performance. My guess is that this characterization is what the screenwriters had in mind for the entire project…funny, hammy, over the top, but enjoyable. And consistent. But the other characters, with their occasional surprisingly bad dialog, never attained it. Streep’s performance became irritating. The other characters bounced between light comedy and out-of-place drama. I gave up any hope of this being an actual musical, and over half-way through, the sing-songy dialog ceased all together, for no apparent reason. It was like the assistant director took over while the big guy went to lunch. Eventually, we the audience stumbled out of a forest of confusion, and see what looks like the end of the story. I resisted looking at my watch the whole time, and thought, well that wasn’t bad, but…wrong. The story plunged back into an irritating forest of heavy-handed seriousness, with thorns of what again attempted to be musical dialog. I had had enough. This could have been spin on the PRINCESS BRIDE, but it got LOST (somewhere) IN TRANSLATION. On the plus side, I was impressed that this thing got the green light from an industry that loves formulaic stories that at least promise to get production costs back. I hope they will with this one. Thirty minutes too long, and btw…Stephen Sondheim? Really?