When intermission arrives during Into the Woods, some audiences need a firm reminder that there is a second act. By the end of the show’s fast and fun first half, its jumbo cast of fairytale characters have conquered their demons and seem ready to live happily ever after. In the second act, composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine twist the knife.
Into the Woods is for everyone who’s finished Cinderella and wondered how marriage can possibly work for a couple who think they’ve found true love after just a few spins on the dance floor. The titular forest becomes a metaphor for maturity: thrilling at first, then arduous and ambiguous.
A no-frills production offers the opportunity to focus on those characters, in contrast to the 2014 movie that buried Sondheim’s wry tone in a sea of CGI. Unfortunately, Shoot the Glass Theater doesn’t quite have the chops to make this show pop in its new production at the Crane Theater.
The gregarious Ryan Nielson leads a promising young troupe. Their 2016 production of Company was an enjoyable romp through one of Sondheim’s lesser-known works, and their new Into the Woods achieves a similarly warm, ego-free flavor. It also, however, demonstrates the limits of a process that emphasizes the cast’s creativity over “the director’s ‘vision’” (per the company’s website), particularly with such complex material and actors who aren’t super-seasoned.
The story weaves an amusing set of interrelationships among fairytale icons like Cinderella (Becca Hart), Jack (Andrew Newman), Little Red Riding Hood (Karissa Lade), and an all-purpose witch (Emily Jansen). The show’s first half is a frothy blend of several stories, all happening at once. In the second act, happily-ever-after is threatened not just by an angry giant but by the vagaries of the heart.
The show commands a large cast, with pianist Jean Van Heel (who shares music-director duties with Randy Buikema) leading a five-piece band. Beyond those considerable human resources, clad in fanciful costumes by Rachel Nielson, there’s not much more to this production: Props, set elements, and lighting cues are all minimal.
It’s an Olympian vocal undertaking, even by Sondheim standards, with ensembles of actors tagging off sometimes syllable by syllable. Though the production is flub-free, its energy never really builds. Numbers that should be showstoppers are merely pleasant. The musical may mature over its month-long run, but on opening night, Hart—fresh off a powerhouse performance in the Jungle’s Wolves—was the only lead who seemed fully in command of her character.
Shoot the Glass shot the moon with this show. The company’s achieved a fine liftoff, but it could use a couple more stages of rocket fuel.
Into the Woods
The Crane Theater
2303 Kennedy St. NE #120, Minneapolis
Through July 1; 612-548-1380