Into the Woods, which premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was revived on Broadway in 2002, is now going into its last week of a popular run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Part of the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park series, Into the Woods is of course not Shakespeare. But the Public has been known to sneak a contemporary musical into its summer season every now and then, often with great results (the Shakespeare in the Park production of Hair a few years back transferred to Broadway for a respectable run).
With a score by revered composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods has carried more buzz than any Shakespeare in the Park production in recent years. It doesn’t hurt that Oscar-nominated film actress Amy Adams (Enchanted, Julie & Julia, Doubt) is co-starring. She plays the role of the Baker’s Wife, one half of a childless couple who must collect a series of objects in order to reverse a Witch’s curse. They interact with numerous characters from legend in this fairy tale mash-up that features beloved characters like Cinderella, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Little Red Ridinghood, and the Big Bad Wolf. The big twist in Into the Woods is that, after bringing us to a happy conclusion at the end of the first act, the musical becomes quite dark in the second act as it explores the consequences of the actions each character took to achieve a “happy ending”.
This production, based on an outdoor English production from a couple years ago, is very good overall. The set design, coupled with the naturally picturesque Central Park location, makes for an enchanting background for the musical. A new frame story, which has a young boy serving as narrator, is a nice touch that reminds us of the power that fairy tales hold, especially for the young.
The cast is uniformly good, with stand-outs being Jessie Mueller as Cinderella and Sarah Stiles as a hilarious Little Red. Denis O’Hare is solid in the crucial role of the Baker, though his singing is unfortunately lacking, notably in the beautiful second-act ballad “No One Is Alone”.
A particular treat for longtime Sondheim fans is the presence of Chip Zien in the role of the Mysterious Man, who takes part in the moving duet “No More” with the Baker. In the original Broadway production of Into the Woods, Zien played the Baker, so it is a joy to see him “graduating” to the Mysterious Man, a role that he plays with great humor and pathos. Sondheim fans can also appreciate seeing Broadway stalwart Donna Murphy (who first made her mark in the original Broadway production of the Sondheim-scored musical Passion) in the role of the Witch, one of the musical’s most showy parts, which she plays with relish.
Due to Into the Woods‘s immense popularity, the Public Theater has already extended the run until September 1, which means you still have a week to catch it. Tickets are absolutely free, and they are handed out at 1pm on performance days. People have been lining up very early for this production, and we have heard that, in general, you need to arrive at Central Park before 6 or 7am if you want to actually get tickets.
There is also an online lottery that opens up each night at midnight, but, as with any lottery, there are always many more losers than winners. Another option is to join the standby line, which generally starts forming immediately after the tickets have been handed out at 1pm. There is no way to guarantee that you will get in via standby, but for the best chance of securing tickets that way, we would recommend arriving by 4pm.
For more information on Shakespeare in the Park, visit shakespeareinthepark.org.