I don't recall exactly how it started, but I've become one of The Sondheim Review's regular reviewers, and the winter issue will contain my evaluation of the current Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods. Director Timothy Sheader's production, to my eyes, works more than it doesn't, and it feels/looks particularly English, so much so that it reminded me of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, another play about magic and mischief in the woods that ends stirringly with a summoning of giants. I write:
If Sheader’s production never reaches [Jerusalem's] incantatory power, it has a little to do with his staging, a little to do with his casting, and a fair amount to do with the source material. Sondheim and Lapine’s 1987 musical is a brilliant piece of craftsmanship that richly rewards repeated viewings and study, both compositionally and dramaturgically. But the show’s final turns, all of them inward, usually grind the evening to a halt while the characters mopily contemplate the complications of families and morals; that stately procession of closing ballads (“No More,” “No One Is Alone,” “Children Will Listen”) can start to sound dangerously close to a series of self-help sermons.For the review and much more besides, you can subscribe or order individual issues here.
I’ve seen very few productions, including the original one (on video, like most of humanity), that have avoided this trap; it’s my fond recollection that a tiny but big-spirited rendition at Actors’ Co-op in Hollywood back in 1994, with Janet Carroll as the Witch, was an exception, and I think what put it across was the intimacy of the space and the clear, bright contours of the characterizations. Indeed, most of the problems with the Central Park production fall along those lines: its frequent lack of intimacy and occasional lack of definition.