A Grimm tale
Into the Woods
I’ll never forget the children’s lit class I took in graduate school, when first I discovered the horror of Grimms’ fairy tales. Having been brought up, like many, on the stuff of Disney, I was shocked to learn that Cinderella’s stepmother actually cut off pieces of her daughters’ feet in order to make them fit into the golden slipper.
And did you know that, in The Little Mermaid, when our heroine finally gets her beautiful legs, she also gets the pain of forever walking on swords and feet that constantly bleed? Oh, and my personal favorite: In Snow White, the girl’s jealous mother actually tries to eat her.
In an attempt to have some fun with these morbid lessons, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine teamed up to write Into the Woods, which TMCC Performing Arts now faithfully presents under the direction of department chair Paul Aberasturi, a die-hard Sondheim devotee.
The convoluted plot involves one basic premise: A baker (Adam Machart) and his wife (Megan Smith) are unable to have the baby they desperately want. A witch (Jenny O) magically appears, explaining that there was, long ago, a curse placed on the baker’s family that none in his line could have a child. She promises to lift the curse if the two will go on a scavenger hunt for a milky white cow, a blood-red cape, corn-yellow hair and a golden slipper. So off the two go into the woods to undo the curse.
Their quest takes them on a path that crosses many of the Grimms’ most beloved characters, including a delightfully silly and stupid Little Red Riding Hood (Annie Evans); a desperate Cinderella on the run (Sabrina Kales); a down-on-his-luck Jack with magic beans (Kiet Cao); a pitiful, put-upon Rapunzel (Holly Laguna); and a couple of philandering Prince Charmings (Evan Harris and Andrew Collins). Happily ever after is attained—then lost—a giant shows up, chaos reigns, and then happily ever after is regained.
While the story remains true to many of the Grimms’ tales, it turns them on their heads by giving the characters smart-ass retorts and story-awareness that makes the show quite a bit more adult than those original morality tales, and yet a lot less horrifying.
Of course, being a Sondheim show, the songs rely on flat, minor keys with tunes that defy memorability yet incorporate some truly funny lyrics. Even now, I struggle to remember any tunes but one. “Agony,” sung by the Prince Charming duet, who lament their bad luck in romantic matters, is the funniest, most memorable, most enjoyable piece of the entire show, and both Collins, as Cinderella’s prince, and Harris, as Rapunzel’s, are always captivating.
While I’m not really a fan of Sondheim’s music, that’s no reflection on the students’ performances, which are consistently strong. In particular, Smith, Kales and Cao have outstanding voices. And Annie Evans’ Red Riding Hood is, aside from the princes, the most fun character to watch, due mostly to her big smile as she delivers her character’s idiotic observations.
There are also plenty of laughs almost through to the end, at which point, things come to a halt when a few overly melancholy numbers, performed in the dark, had me—I am ashamed to admit—almost nodding off. Thank goodness for the rousing finale.
And praise must be paid to the production design. It seems like the members of this company are constantly outdoing themselves. From the tree-lined path to the stars that actually twinkle, and from Cinderella’s ball gown to the Big Bad Wolf’s … um … anatomy, all the details really do make you feel completely absorbed into the woods.