“Into the Woods”

Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia • 8 February 2007 • 8pm
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine.

Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Musical Director: Jon Kalbfleisch. With Priscilla Cuellar (the Witch [understudy]), Daniel Cooney (the Baker), April Harr Blandin (the Baker’s Wife), Lauren Williams (Little Red Riding Hood), Stephen Gregory Smith (Jack), Donna Migliaccio (Jack’s Mum), Stephanie Waters (Cinderella), James Moye (Cinderella’s Prince / Wolf), Erin Driscoll (Rapunzel), Sean MacLaughlin (Rapunzel’s Prince)…

So the Signature has moved to its brand new home in Shirlington Village, not far from its original location. The irony is that the main stage is very reminiscent of the old black-box garage space; even the corridor that led to the auditorium in the original space has been lovingly recreated! But the facility is now state-of-the-art, with better seats, top-notch acoustics and ample backstage facilities. Plus there’s a smaller performing space beside the main stage.

This was my sixth production of Into the Woods and my fifth (I think) Signature production. Two reasons why I knew I would love it, and love it I did. There is no stage per se: the action takes place very much in the middle of the audience. That intimacy creates the perfect environment to showcase the outstanding quality of Sondheim’s lyrics (and, to some extent, of Lapine’s book). Many more “clever” lyrics hit home than in any other production I’ve seen.

The cast is very good, particularly on the male side: Daniel Cooney as the Baker, Stephen Gregory Smith as Jack and James Moye & Sean MacLaughlin as the Princes all give superlative performances. On the female side, Lauren Williams as Little Red Riding Hood was my favourite. The Witch was played by the understudy, Priscilla Cuellar, who did very well in spite of a few glitches considering the intricacies of the part, which involves manipulating a firing stick, doing a quick change on stage and disappearing screaming into a trapdoor.

Eric Schaeffer did his usual gret job and has managed to bring out a few nuances that I’d never seen in other productions. The whole show whizzes by like in a dream. Well done again!

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