— Lyric Stage’s announcement that its 2015-16 season would open with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 musical Into the Woods, with the Lyric treatment, which means a full orchestra (30 pieces in this one), was enough to get any musical lover excited.
Woods is not one of Sondheim’s more complex works, but it’s still wonderful to hear musical director Jay Dias’ orchestra get every little nuance out of the score. Sondheim’s lyrics are, as usual, sparkling. As a concept goes, it’s probably not original — characters from various fairytales intersect and instead of the moralizing, there are bigger questions about actions and consequences — but with Lapine’s help, he handles more cleverly than anyone else might have.
To boot, director Harry Parker, theater chair at Texas Christian University, has assembled an ace cast for this production.
With all those elements in place, you’d expect an unforgettable experience. But somehow, it’s not quite there. It might be a good-looking production filled with terrific performances, but elements that make a fairytale so enchanting — mystery, surprise and wonder — are missing in this production, which is paced a little two slowly.
The Narrator (James Williams) kicks off the musical with Once Upon a Time, and we meet the main characters, many of them familiar. Cinderella (Mary McElree) wants to go to the King’s Festival, but her Stepmother (Lucia Welch) and stepsisters Florinda (Danielle Estes) and Lucinda (Daron Cockerell) only laugh. Jack (Kyle Montgomery) loves his cow Milky White, and makes some bad choices when his Mother (Angela Davis) needs Jack to sell the milkless Milky.
Little Red Riding Hood (Amy Button) is off to Grandmother’s house (Chelsea Coyne) and those plans are almost thwarted by Wolf (Christopher J. Deaton). Meanwhile Rapunzel (Kelly Silverthorn) sings in her tower, kept there by her mother the Witch (Catherine Carpenter Cox), who has her own plans in mind when she instructs the Baker (Andy Baldwin) and his Wife (Mary Gilbreath Grim) to find specific items so they won’t be cursed with childlessness.
Whew! It’s a lot, and it makes for a long first act, but at least there are those songs to get you through it (Hello, Little Girl, Giants in the Sky and Stay With Me). In the second act everything that came with the “happily ever after” isn’t so happy, best described by Deaton and Anthony Fortino as Cinderella and Repunzel’s Princes, respectively, in the glorious song Agony.
In the vocal and acting departments, Carpenter Cox, Montgomery, Baldwin, Gilbreath Grim and a leaping Fortino are highlights, but the cast is uniformly strong. It looks (sets and costumes are rented) and sounds fantastic.
But — and maybe this is because we’ve come to expect something beyond excellence from Lyric Stage — the whole production lacks of personality, something that would make it stand out from other productions of this same musical. Something…magical.
Into the Woods
Through Sept. 13
Irving Arts Center, Carpenter Hall, 3333 McArthur Blvd., Irving