Review: Broadway in Chicago’s Into the Woods Casts Its Splendid Magic

The latest incarnation of Stephen Sondheim's and James Lapine's storied musical fable, Into the Woods, is making a magical appearance at the Nederlander Theatre through May 7. Brought to town courtesy of Broadway in Chicago, this production is the roadshow version of last year's acclaimed Broadway revival and brings with it several members of that cast. Expertly presented in a pared-down staging (the revival originally began as part of New York's Encores concert series), the show loses none of its powerful enchantments.

The second collaboration between Sondheim and Lapine (following 1984's Sunday in the Park with George), Into the Woods adapts familiar fairytales (Cinderella, Red Ridinghood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk) and asks the pointed question—what happens after people get their wish and live "happily ever after?" This is Sondheim, so the answer is complicated: they suffer loss, they learn important lessons, they grow—while performing some of the greatest songs in Sondheim's canon: "Children Will Listen," "Stay with Me," "No One Is Alone," and, a personal favorite, that plea for understanding and forgiveness, "No More."

Ta'Nika Gibson, Brook Ishibashi and Nancy Opel. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Like all fairytales, Into the Woods benefits from repeated tellings—something new is always revealing itself. I've seen the show (plus the 2014 film adaptation) several times, and I have to say this is the funniest version yet. The show has always had comic elements, but this production finds more humor than usual, often in unexpected spots.

Which brings me to Gavin Creel in his dual role as the Wolf and as Cinderella's Prince. These roles are usually played with sexual menace; Creel makes them hilarious. His wolf is a foppish gourmand; his prince a preening himbo with over-the-top, oblivious self regard.

Gavin Creel and Katy Geraghty. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Creel's wolf is joined in the comedy by Katy Geraghty, who plays Little Red with a delightful impishness: brave and brash, with an outsized personality ready to defy wolves, giants or, indeed, anyone who stands in her way. Always an amusing role, Geraghty not only mines it for laughs, but also brings poignancy to the "ever after" Red: wiser, more rueful, but still feisty.

Additional humor is provided by Kennedy Kanagawa, the talented actor and puppeteer in the role of "Milky-White"—Jack (of Beanstalk fame)'s faithful pet. As portrayed by Kanagawa, Milky-White is a lovable bovine bestfriend that puts the most faithful canine companion to shame. Finally, Broadway stalwart Nancy Opel turns Cinderella's evil stepmother into a comically conniving foil who you greet with warm chuckles instead of hisses.

Montego Glover. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

There was an additional element of musical magic at last Wednesday's opening night performance. About half an hour into the show, the action stopped and an announcement was made: the actor initially playing Cinderella was ill and an understudy—Ellie Fishman (who was already subbing as one of the step-sisters)—would step into the role. Two minutes later, when Fishman made her entrance stumbling down the steps of the palace, her first lines, "just let me catch my breath," were met with raucous applause. Fishman went on to earn that early warm welcome with her winsome, tender portrayal of Cinderella—appropriately enough a simple girl-next-door suddenly thrust into prominence.

Into the Woods runs through May 7 at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph St. Tickets are available at www.broadwayinchicago.com

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Doug Mose

Doug Mose grew up on a farm in western Illinois, and moved to the big city to go to grad school. He lives with his husband Jim in Printers Row. When he’s not writing for Third Coast Review, Doug works as a business writer.