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“Into the Woods”, University of Michigan, is wonderful (review) October 16, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Theatre.
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“Into the Woods” presented by the University of Michigan Musical Theater Program, is the only local production of this (way way overproduced)show that I have seen that does it the way it’s supposed to be done.  I had the fortune to see the original Into the Woods on Broadway when I was living there in the 80’s with it’s spectacular cast including Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, and Joanna Gleason.

UM’s production is just lovely — from the set, lighting and costumes, to the very fine vocal work – especially the choral work here. Kudos to musical director Cynthia Kortman Westphal and director Mark Madama for the magic onstage.

The student actors are indistinguishable from a professional tour cast.  Eric Maler and Amy Blackman as the Baker and his WIfe turn in fine performances, as does Rachel Bahler as the Witch, but the entire ensemble cast here is superb. I especially enjoyed Andy Jones in his duel-roles of the Wolf as well as one of the Princes. He’s a hoot in both.

The show works particularly well in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater – large enough to make it a true proscenium musical with a full orchestra, but intimate enough that you can literally hear every word. Congratulations to the excellent sound design here.

Get out of the house, go see this “Woods” even if you have seen the show multiple times before (and how could you not have, given it is one of the most over-done musicals from elementary school to regional productions). Unless you have seen the show on Broadway, you haven’t seen it like this. Every joke, every piece of dialogue, and every note in Lapine/Sondhem’s work is nuanced and clever. It’s not either of the artists’ strongest works, but it is their most accessible by far. As you get into Act II (yes, folks who have done the show in primary and junior high schools, there IS an Act II), the story takes a decidedly more adult turn with all the grand themes of death, survival, coping, and rebirth that make all musicals soar.

Giants can be right. Witches can be good. And you will have a wonderful time venturing into these “Woods”.

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