Imagine, if you can, a magical marriage of place and performance. When you do, you’ll see Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl.
Having the good fortune of a thorough musical education and an undying love for Stephen Sondheim, I attend the LA Philharmonic’s production of Into the Woods with excitement and caution. I was prepared to defend this musical at all costs.
No princely defence is necessary. This production of Into the Woods has everything promised and an extra dash of hilly Hollywood magic. Nestled in the corner of movie land, blanketed by a starry sky, the cast and crew of Into the Woods tells the same powerful powerful story to a large and utterly captivated audience.
This cast ventured bravely into the bowl, ready to become characters immortalized in 1987, and delighted us all. Sierra Boggess, best known for playing an Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-approved Christine in Phantom, combines the voice of a princess with the caustic humour of a fed-up maid. A perfect Cinderella. Patina Miller, star of CBS’ Madam Secretary, commands attention and applause as the vengeful Witch. Meanwhile, the youthful roles of Little Red Riding Hood (Shanice Williams) and Jack (Gaten Matarazzo) possess all the innocence, charm, and fun necessary to win an entire audience. Edward Hibbert, whom I will always see as the food critic from Frasier, is a genuinely lovely narrator. And, let us not forget, Whoopi Goldberg’s cameo as the voice of the Giant. There has never been a more celebrated audio recording.
Every fairy tale character plays their part and supports the Into the Woods legacy. James Lapine’s witty book thrives in the hands of princes Cheyenne Jackson and Chris Carmack. Sutton Foster’s performance as the disillusioned Baker’s Wife shakes the audience with laughter. Likewise, Sondheim’s most touching songs succeed in breaking hearts. “No More,” as performed by Skylar Astin and Anthony Crivello, stabs the chest and stings the eyes. Just as it should, this song earned early applause from its massive outdoor audience.
Speaking of the audience, this one was almost immediately captivated. By the time darkness had fallen and Jack sang of “Giants in the Sky,” those thousands in attendance had their eyes glued to the stage. Credit for the mystifying stillness of the audience must be paid to crew as well as the cast. Adam Flemming uses the dimensions of the bowl to their best advantage, projecting a magical array of shadows, lights, and digital wonders. And director/choreographer Robert Longbottom made the same four trees useful to every cast member.
What do you get when you cross a venue like the Hollywood Bowl with a star-studded cast and a talented crew? The worldly insight only a successful Into the Woods production can give. As the show draws to a close, its audience has witnessed far more than fairy tale foolery. They’ve received an impression of life at its darkest, the turmoil prejudice, hatred and pain, and the eventual glimmers of hope. If you have the meaning of this show in hand – the “spells” cast on children, the need for forgiveness, the plight of growing up – you have the heart of Into the Woods. And if you have the heart of Into the Woods, you have the power to hold Hollywood at your feet.
The greater LA area felt the magic. “No more” doubting. LA Phil’s Into the Woods is rapturous.