Broadway at TPAC Presents the
New York City Center, Encores! Production of
Into the Woods
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
May 23 – 28, 2023
Andrew Jackson Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
Nashville Parent recommends ages 8+
I wish … oh wait, I got what I wished! We’re the lucky ones to get the National Tour of Into the Woods, direct from Broadway, as part of a select 10-city jaunt. If this is a taste of things to come, count me in. This theatrical event honors the beloved musical by the late-great composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and
book author/director James Lapine (as directed here by Lear deBessonet). It’s nothing short of marvelous to have giant talents fill the stage — no pun intended — in a tried-and-true work; what’s possible is catapulted to another level, one that provides true inspiration.
Hurry and get your tickets; many of the original cast members perform on this tour and the TPAC ticket page reports “limited seats available” for the remaining seven performances.
Whacky Fairy Tale
The production is a semi-stage concert version as it was on Broadway just last season. The orchestra is in the center of the stage (conducted by Music Director John Bell), among suspended birch trees, and the actors traipse and dash both upstage and down. Don’t worry, it works.
A fairy tale mashup is the deliciousness of Act 1. Bringing together Cinderella and her prince, her step family, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Rapunzel and her prince, Jack of Jack-and-the-Beanstalk fame and his mother plus his pet cow named Milky White. This may sound like a kid’s show come true, but hold on, there’s serious business afoot.
A Baker (Sebastian Arcelus, stable and genuine amid the madness) and his wife (true-life wife, Stephanie J. Block, more on her below) are childless, the result of an evil spell cast by their hideous neighbor witch (a muscular and fierce Montego Glover). In order to get the child they desperately want, they must give the witch what she needs to break the spell. The satisfying results of Act 1 are pure joy and happiness all around as everyone gets what they want, moving headlong into happy ever after.
Change of Tone
Act 2 is another story, parents be warned. It’s a bit of a slog into the heavier business of adulthood and what really matters … if anything at all. Sparkle and shine have all but fallen to pieces and the grim reality of surviving in the treacherous woods (real life) is what it’s about. That part about parents be warned: there was a moaning child somewhere in the theater. This is a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute show, after all, enjoyable only to a degree by the younger set. Consider booking a matinee.
Some of the most beautiful songs come in the second half, notably, our favorites, “The Last Midnight,” “No One is Alone” and “Children Will Listen.” If Act 1 is Sondheim on a frivolous adventure, Act 2 brings him home. There he is, buried in work, pondering complicated truths. The surprising result is a kind of ambivalence, but one that may also bring a tear to your eyes. And just look at what you are getting …
Just when you think what else can they do with ‘Into the Woods?’ here comes this bevy of talent finding the laughter in between the lines, on them and in new, hidden pockets. The aforementioned Stephanie J. Block (who local theater-lovers may recall from Studio Tenn’s popular virtual talk show, “Studio Tenn Talks” during COVID), not only sings the Baker’s Wife with intelligence and power, she’s masterful at conveying moment-to-moment emotions with gestures and nuance. Block won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for The Cher Show. You may have seen her outstanding performance as Elphaba in the First National Tour of Wicked.
And we must ask, is there anyone alive who doesn’t love Gavin Creel? Winner of the 2017 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Featured Role for the part of Cornelius in Hello, Dolly — we just adore him and want him at our next dinner party. As the Wolf and then Cinderella’s white-haired Prince, he finds every joke flawlessly, oozing slime as the Wolf and charisma as the Prince, cheerfully upstaging Rapunzel’s Prince (Jason Forbach, funny and with gorgeous pipes) at every turn. Creel wields twiggy physicality with graceful buffoonery and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. We wish him great fortune with the musical he’s working on (see his bio in the program!)
The stand-outs are endless. Little Red Ridinghood (Katy Geraghty) brings impeccable comic timing and knife-wielding thuggery; Nancy Opel (Cinderella’s Stepmother) adds a dottering to the role we’ve not seen before; and David Patrick Kelly (Narrator/Mysterious Man) somehow finds a way to steal your heart. We loved the human touch with the Milky White puppetry (Kennedy Kanagawa) and the enormous, puppeted shoes of the giant’s wife as she stomps through the wood.
Into the Woods is a shimmering show filled with surprises and big fun from a joy-filled cast. Go — and you just may get your wish, too.