Book by James Lapine
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Geoff Button
Choreographed by Katie Spelman
Music Direction by Matt Deitchman
Produced by the-hypocrites
At the Mercury Theater,
Chicago Campy, cheeky and cheese comic revisionist Into the Woods plays as an amateur affair
Call me old fashion but if you’re going to deconstruct or reinterpret a well know musical try to cast folks who can sing, especially if its a musical. Also, while it is valid to play to a show’s humor, why take a charming fairy tale with good life lessons and play it as a cheeky, campy, even cheesy silly comedy? I guess I don’t get why a theatre troupe actively tries to be so “playful” (their term) at the expense of the show’s essence? The-hypocrites are now making a practice of mocking popular musicals just because they can. It started with their tasteless mockery of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance continued with The Mikado and now they put their digs on Sondheim’s whimsical fairy tale, Into The Woods. It should be noted that the-hypocrites’ productions are particularly different than the mainstream productions of those musicals. It should alps be noted that this show is NOT a Mercury Theatre production
So be warned, this Into The Woods is substantially reinvented in that it features loads of campy humor (much more than the original) and it has most of the players playing multiple roles including many playing the same role at different times.
Also, note for some strange reason. director Geoff Button cast players who are extremely vocally challenged- many of them can only sing off key or mumble through their songs sounding like chip monks. Please, unless you’re deliberately casting those who can’t sing (for some perverse reason), cast singers who can carry a tune and project. There is a wealth of talent in Chicago including a vast stable of non-Equity talent. Just ask Fred Anzevino at Theo Ubique where to find fresh talented singers but don’t cast a major musical with non-singers –
What is the artistic value in doing a musical with poor to weak off-key voices? I’ll not name who I thought were the worst since none of the main characters could sing a lick. If the idea was to mock Sondheim’s terrific songs, they succeeded. Singing Sondheim is challenging enough but with weak singers it is near impossible. That is what happened all evening in this production.
According to Wikipedia , Into The Woods: “The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Rapunzel”, and “Cinderella”, as well as several others. The musical is tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, their interaction with a Witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey.”
The-hypocrites staging is a balloon-filled kindergarten school room filled with players who seem to be acting as if they were middle schoolers in a musical staged by a middle school kid. The silliness begs children but the show is not a children’s show by any means. As show here, Into The Woods unfolds as a comedy but not as a fairy tale musical. That is a unique interpretation.
One of the main traps a director could get into with Into The Woods is the major tone shift in act two when the dark side of the “happily even after” disappears. After act one’s cheekiness, suddenly the tone is dark filled with fear and killings. So what happened to all the silliness? It is rightfully subdued in act two but that leads to a most drastically uneven show.
There were some worthy dramatic moments especially from Joel Ewing as the Baker. He was the lone shinning light in this wacky production. Theatre patrons be warned this isn’t your mainstream Into The Woods – rather a poorly sung cheeky version. On opening might, the only audience members who laughed heartily were younger folks who have probably never seen the original-inspired productions of Into The Woods such the wonderful 2010 version by Porchlight Musical Theatre staring Bethany Thomas.
Unfortunately, those new to the show will come away from the-hypocrites 2014 production thinking that their take is what the musical really is. And that is the real fear here.
Talk Theatre In Chicago podcast Date Reviewed: February 11, 2014
For more info checkout the Into The Woods page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700, www.mercurytheaterchicago.com, tickets $22 – $59, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 PM, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 32 minutes with intermission, through March 30, 2104