Feature

Into the Woods

It was a marvelously appropriate choice to stage Sondheim’s 1986 musical at the Delacorte Theater.

Delacorte Theater, New York(212) 539-8750

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It was a marvelously appropriate choice to stage Into the Woods at the Delacorte Theater, said Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. “One of the magical theater destinations of New York City,” the open-air venue—celebrating 50 years as the home of Shakespeare in the Park—provides a perfect setting for Stephen Sondheim’s take on the world of fairy tales. A “madly inventive” set adds to the enchantment, transforming the stage into an arboretum. Sondheim’s 1986 musical has been produced many times, but a night in this setting promises “once-upon-a-lifetime theater.”

If only the show’s storybook characters delivered “half as much bewitchment,” said Peter Marks in The Washington Post. Too many performances come across as “shrill or, even more often, laboriously bedraggled.” As a malicious witch who curses a childless baker and his wife, musical theater veteran Donna Murphy falls into the first trap: “Her witchy embellishments attempt to turn small jokes into huge ones,” and the material can’t sustain the weight. Meanwhile, movie actor Amy Adams has the opposite problem. The role of the baker’s wife requires “a mixture of heart and ironic detachment,” but Adams makes the character “merely pleasant.” 

“It breaks my heart to chalk up this production as another example of thwarted hopes,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. It does have some things going for it: Noah Radcliffe (alternating with Jack Broderick) proves winningly natural as the young narrator, and Sarah Stiles’s Red Riding Hood is “a stylish caricature that also feels affectingly real.” Indeed, “all flaws could be forgiven—or nearly forgiven—if this production had found its authentic voice in song.” Alas, few of the performers can meet the demands of Sondheim’s intricate songwriting, and those who can have their numbers “undermined by the distractions of frantic and unfocused staging.” When the songs in a Sondheim show get lost in the thicket, “you know it’s time for some serious deforestation.”

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