The cast of Into the Woods (Ryan Bruce)
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods is possibly the greatest ode to the fairy tale genre ever put to page or stage. The 1987 musical is a loving pastiche of the stories generations of children have grown up on, featuring a jumbled handful of beloved characters thrown into a series of intersecting adventures. The play taps into all the Big Feelings that come with those stories—joy and wonder and longing, as well as the darkness present in the original Grimm and Perrault tales.
Into the Woods takes things a step further, though, and explores the smaller but no less impactful emotions that take over when fairy tale doesn’t end with “happily ever after” but continues on to just become a person’s life. Eventually, the thrill of adventure will dissipate, magic turns to mundanity, grand romantic pursuits lead to the normalcy of a shared life. Into the Woods asks what life looks like after one’s greatest wishes are fulfilled, and if one can ever be satisfied after their dreams come true. The production currently onstage at the White Theatre at the J isn’t as dark or devastating as the play has the potential to be, but it is still a wholly enjoyable experience, and not short on poignant emotional resonance.
The ostensibly simplistic fairy tale framing belies the incredible technical complexities that keep this show moving. Pretty much any Sondheim musical is a massively complicated undertaking with a multitude of intricate moving parts and complex, difficult music. Into the Woods is no exception. Some imbalances in the sound system dampen the effect of the layered singing at times but overall, the cast, under the deft direction of Kacy Christensen, is stellar. Krista Eyler deserves a special shoutout for her incredible vocal and physical performance as the Witch but the entire ensemble is on point throughout. The group moves with energetic precision and nails the extreme complexities of Sondheim’s score. The result is exhilarating to watch.
As always, the onstage visuals at the White Theatre are top-notch. Jeremy Smith’s towering set, lit by Justin Dudzik’s lush lighting, set the stage for a magical fairy tale. Patricia Berning’s costumes fit the iconic characters perfectly. Christensen keeps the choreography relatively simple, allowing the large cast to navigate the space with a satisfying, purposeful fluidity.
This production doesn’t reinvent Into the Woods but it’s exceptional enough to delight and move even those audience members well familiar with the play. And for first-time viewers, this is a fantastic opportunity to introduce yourself to a classic.
“Into the Woods” runs at The White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City (5801 W 115 Street, Overland Park, KS) through November 19. For more information, visit thewhitetheatre.org.