Saturday, December 17, 2022

Into the Woods

When I was younger, I saw a touring production of Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. I adored the show and bought the cast album on audio cassette. I listened to it so much, I eventually wore out the tape. I later got another copy. I think I wore out that one, too.

So it's safe to say that I'm fairly familiar with the music in the show. I missed the sold-out run at Encores, but the play is on Broadway again, this time at the St. James Theatre, so of course I had to go. The production is minimalistic, as one would expect for a transfer from an Encores reading, so the real draw for the production is the dream-team cast.

Last night I saw understudies Delphi Borich and Paul Kreppel as Little Red Ridinghood and the Narrator. Both were brilliant, so I've no complaints there. Nor can I complain about other replacement cast members who have now taken over for the performers who opened the show this summer. Patina Miller was no doubt an excellent Witch, but I got to see Joaquina Kalukango, who I loved in Paradise Square.

Sara Bareilles opened as the Baker's Wife, but that role is currently being played by Stephanie J. Block, one of the hardest-working performers on Broadway and my favorite singer in the show. She plays opposite Brian d'Arcy James, who was brilliant in Something Rotten, but was somewhat outshone last night by Block, whose emotional interpretation of songs like "Moments in the Woods" made him seem almost cold by comparison.

The opening-night cast for this production included Phillipa Soo as Cinderella. She was brilliant both in The Great Comet of 1812 and Hamilton, so I'm sorry I missed her, but I was glad I got to see Denée Benton in the role instead. (Benton also performed the part for Encores.) This isn't the first time Benton and Soo have swapped a role. After Soo originated the role of Natasha in Great Comet off-Broadway, Benton stepped in as the new Natasha in the Broadway version. I missed her when I saw the show on Broadway, as the understudy went on that night, so this was my first time seeing Benton live on stage.

Last night's audience went wild for the the two princes, played by Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry. They've been with the show since its opening night, as have been Sondheim veterans Annie Golden and Nancy Opal, who played Cinderella's Mother and Stepmother respectively. Making their Broadway debuts with the opening of this production were Cole Thompson as Jack and Alysia Velez as Rapunzel. They're still with the show as well, and both performed admirably, but the star is really Jack's cow, Milky White, a magnificent puppet operated by Kennedy Kanagawa.

Lear deBessonet, who has staged some dreamy Shakespeare in Central Park, directed the production. If you want to see it, Into the Woods is still playing until January 8th.