Into the Woods

By Beth Moffett

Into the Woods, the latest Broadway Series offering at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, was truly a trip back into childhood. For anyone whose mother ever read him fairy tales aloud as a child, the characters were immediately recognizable, even if their behavior was not quite as remembered.

This ambitious effort combined Red Riding Hood, the childless baker and his wife, Jack of Beanstalk fame, Rapunzel and the witch who kept her captive, Cinderella, and all of their auxiliary princes, wolves and miscellaneous hangers-on into a crowded but rollicking show with music by Stephen Sondheim.

To get the feel of the play, picture Red Riding Hood as a snippy know-it-all, who, after her encounter with the wolf, wore a wolfskin cape and pulled a butcher knife on everyone she encountered. This description notwithstanding, she was the most endearing character in the play. She lacked the innocence of the original fairy tale character, but this was replaced with determination and resiliency.

All of the characters developed far beyond their superficial fairy tale selves. Into The Woods artfully combined the fairy story with the often brutal reality of life.

The first act encompassed everyone's efforts to live happily ever after. Those characters who succeeded in this endeavor in the fairy tale also prevailed in the first act. However, they sometimes used theft, deceit, and other methods that would make the Brothers Grimm cringe. As in real life, even the good guys in this play were not without sin.

Bringing all of these characters to happiness by the end of the first act was complicated, time-consuming and, unfortunately, sometimes tedious. I occasionally found myself getting bogged down in the morass of story lines. However, once I settled down to just enjoying the silliness and supernatural happenings of the play, I was better able to overlook the minor problems of length and complexity.

The second act was shorter, but definitely more intense, as the giant's wife came to crush (literally) the already crumbling feeling of contentment among the characters. The only ones to survive the giant's wife's heavy boot were Jack, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and the Baker and his baby. By the end of the play they had grown into responsible people who were able to take care of not only themselves, but each other.

In spite of all the awards this play has won, I was not sure when I left the Center whether or not I liked Into The Woods. However, as I told others about the play, I realized how enthused I was about it. The characters were wonderful individually and as a company. The music, although not as outstanding as I expected from Stephen Sondheim, fitted well into the overall effect. It was well crafted and entertaining. What more should anyone ask.