REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Into the Woods by the-hypocrites

Book by James Lapinethe-hypocrites

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

Hypocrites Into the Woods 5

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.

Hypocrites Into the Woods 6 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.

Hypocrites Into the Woods 10 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.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre In Chicago podcast Date Reviewed: February 11, 2014

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Into The Woods page at

At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700,, 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

3 thoughts on “Into the Woods by the-hypocrites

  • Donna McGough

    I honestly don’t understand why some theatre “critics” are compelled to not just give their singular opinion, but to rake the hard working artists over the coals while they are at it. Was it not enough for you to simply comment that the production was not to your liking, supporting that opinion with valid critique? Did it make you feel more powerful in your web review to insult and degrade everyone connected with the production? You serve no one with this so-called review. It simply sounds like it’s the opinion of a disgruntled, angry, frustrated, wannabe artist. I’d love to see you do better.

  • Ready my review of The Playboy of the Western World to see that I’m a theatre lover. To date, i have 19 “Highly Recommended” and only 3 “Not Recommended in over 40 reviews in 2014. I wonder if you actually saw the show?

  • Rob Gordon

    I will have to respectfully agree with Donna on this one. Your column misses the entire aspect of what Button & Co. are going for with this production, nay, the entire company of The Hypocrites as a whole. After viewing several productions by this company – the point isn’t to fully mount an identical production as its written in the theatrical notes – its to produce something that is going to make one think and create a response.

    You start out by eliciting that you should be seen as “old fashioned” because you want people to be able to sing well in a musical – even if that production is being deconstructed. I would first ask – what does deconstructing a show have ANYTHING to do with the talent on stage – they are completely separate – one is a thematic concept choice of a director and the other is a performance medium.

    Second and more importantly, you downright call-out The Hypocrites for “mocking” musicals because of their particular campy humor contained within this production, and other previous musical productions the same company has mounted in recent past. There is a reason that Sondheim and Lapine won for Best Book of this show in the 1987/88 Broadway Season – in true Sondheim fashion, ‘Woods’ is smart and deeply-surfaced material. The Hypocrites brought out nuances in the writing which are not usually highlighted contextually; whether you agree or disagree with the vein of those deliveries means its a personal choice rather than something right or wrong in the production itself. Additionally, your “warning” about this being a “substantially reinvented” production of ‘Into the Woods’ should be revised as it’s completely inaccurate. Sondheim himself has been documented as saying the double-casting is fully intentional for specific reasons and used to link characters and themes together in various ways. If you are going to give your readers your viewpoint on something dealing with this kind of information, please ensure that you have checked the validity of your perceptions before dispensing them to others as something wrote.

    Finally, in reference to your comments involving the “extremely vocally challenged cast” – I’m not sure what show you may have been viewed but I assure you that it wasn’t at the Mercury Theater. Yes, I will agree that some of the voices probably won’t be seen during a Broadway in Chicago caliber show, but that doesn’t mean your review should reflect your disliking of any (or rather all, in this case) particular qualities with this cast by relegating the actors as below-average in certain areas & dispelling your disdain as something on par to “chip monks” – which by the way, is one word and spelled with “u”.

    Placing your personal feelings on the subjects at hand while not acting in accordance of an impartial reviewer is something which you should really consider reshaping as you continue to “critique” the theatre in our fair city. If you feel the cast here isn’t up-to-snuff, then give some actual criticism on the casting choices made by the director or casting associate involved with this project, or the handling of the talents within the project – this is akin to saying that a certain film actor is sub-par when, in fact, an editor made certain choices on the final cut and made the actor look bad. You can tell that someone has talent or not – whether you care for that talent is a personal item – but please don’t reprimand a cast because you simply don’t care for the quality of the specific instruments involved; I don’t care for Kenny G, but I respect his artistry.

    For someone who comments heavily and often enough on Jeff Recommended shows (of which this is), it seems humous and ironic that your column is the only major publication in the city which hasn’t given this show some of the praise that it deserves. Furthermore, on the vocal qualities of this production, I believe that your publication also perhaps the SOLE voice in Chicago which has come forward in disliking the talent on display here – if there a lesson to be had, I think it presents itself in a definitive shining light here.

    As a theatre-goer & “critic”, you don’t have to agree with every sentiment of any director, actor, musician or technician when it comes to choices of execution within the material that they put on display, but that doesn’t invite you to pick apart something that is carried out with integrity and concept just because you try and fully adhere to the traditional aesthetics on how something should be upheld. Interpretation is part of the game of being an artist, its not your job to understand why something looks, sounds or is the way it it, its your job to write if it was successful or not.

Leave a Reply