The second New York revival of the 1987 musical Into the Woods has opened Off-Broadway, as the closing show in the Public Theater’s summer season at the Delacorte in Central Park, to decidedly mixed reviews. For the record, the creative team includes James Lapine (book), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics, music), Timothy Sheader (direction), Liam Steel (co-direction, movement), John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmour (sets), Emily Rebholz (costumes), Ben Stanton (lights), Acme Sound Partners (sound), Rachael Canning (puppets), Leah Loukas (wigs), Jonathan Tunick (orchestration), and Paul Gemignani (music direction).
The cast includes Amy Adams (Baker’s Wife), Jack Broderick and Noah Radcliffe (alternating as Narrator), Glenn Close (Giant), Victoria Cook (Gretel, Snow White), Gideon Glick (Jack), Cooper Grodin (Prince), Ellen Harvey (Stepmother), Ivan Hernandez (Prince, Wolf), Tina Johnson (Granny), Josh Lamon (Steward), Bethany Moore (Florinda), Jessie Mueller (Cinderella), Donna Murphy (Witch), Johnny Newcomb (Woodsman), Denis O’Hare (Baker), Jennifer Rias (Lucinda), Laura Shoop (Cinderella’s Mother), Tess Soltau (Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty), Sarah Stiles (Little Red Ridinghood), Eric R. Williams (Hansel), Kristine Zbornik (Jack’s Mother), and Chip Zien (Cinderella’s Father, Mysterious Man).
Ben Brantley (N.Y. Times): It breaks my heart to chalk up this production as another example of thwarted hopes. … This high-concept repackaging of beloved archetypes feels like the work of an overeager Hollywood production team desperate to tap the tweener market. … Worse, these souped-up creatures exude little flesh-and-blood warmth. … But all flaws could be forgiven – or nearly forgiven – if this production had found its authentic voice in song. … In this version, though, the music is never allowed to hold its own or even to take center stage. Admittedly, much of the cast isn’t up to the demands of an intricate Sondheim score. But even those who are, like Ms. Murphy and Ms. Mueller, find their numbers undermined by the distractions of frantic and unfocused staging. When the songs in a Sondheim show get lost in the woods, you know it’s time for some serious deforestation.
Joe Dziemianowicz (N.Y. Daily News): Without Donna Murphy’s vivid star turn … it’d be an interesting but uneven night. … On the plus side, the scenery, a cobbled high-rise of trees, ladders, wooden walkways and soaring bird’s nest, is bewitching. Ditto the visuals. … On the downside, the production can be shrill and alienatingly eccentric, from characterizations to costumes. Some key performances fail to bring out the beauty of the music or to pop as colorfully as they might – or both. … Running three hours, Into the Woods is a bit of a haul. But endurance brings a sweet payoff: “Children Will Listen,” a beautiful song that makes you feel fully connected. It’s not a miraculous happily ever after. But in the moment, it’s pretty heavenly.
Michael Musto (Village Voice): Donna Murphy excels as the Witch, especially scoring in her fiery “Last Midnight” number in which she makes all sorts of demands then disappears into a hole. Sarah Stiles is wryly funny as an unkillable Little Red Ridinghood, complete with a crash helmet and an Instamatic camera. And while Denis O’Hare is the endlessly frustrated Baker, Chip Zien – who played the part in the original production – is now his dad, proving that we all become our parents. … Some of this production’s choices are head scratchers and a few scenes need better direction, but by taking bold steps, it fills these fractured fairy tales with enough yearning spirit to create a richly enjoyable musical meditation on parenting, responsibility, scapegoating, and compromise. I wish … you’d see it.
Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly): Director Timothy Sheader’s buoyantly inventive, into-the-trees production makes room for every emotion, thanks to a generously talented cast led by Donna Murphy in a stop-the-show thrilling performance as the witch. (Another starry highlight: As the baker and his wife, Denis O’Hare and Amy Adams sweetly interpret the tender duet ‘‘It Takes Two.’’) … Sheader, who directed the show two years ago at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London, has an obvious feel for the show, one of Sondheim’s most enduring hits. Here, working with co-director Liam Steel, he’s produced once-upon-a-lifetime theater. A
Steven Suskin (Variety): Brit director Timothy Sheader builds his often willfully anachronistic production on intriguing if not always workable notions. It makes for an enjoyable evening of free theater, but the open question for the Public is whether the show has the legs to transfer. … Overall effect is strong but not transporting. … Sheader’s devices too frequently distract. … Characters are outfitted and performed in a cartoonish manner, providing laughs, but often at the expense of the script. Similarly, while the production has an array of interesting performances, the contempo touches sometimes limit their impact. … Even when it’s not supportive of the material, the staging by Sheader and Steel is novel and dynamic. This Into the Woods serves as a good, if overlong, midsummer’s eve diversion in Central Park, but not necessarily in a Broadway theater.
Terry Teachout (Wall St. Journal): Donna Murphy and Jessie Mueller, for instance, are terrific, and the Midsummer Night’s Dream-style set … makes imaginative use of the Delacorte Theater’s natural surroundings. If only the sparkle-free, visually unfocused staging looked half so good. It’s hard to imagine a production of Into the Woods going flat, but that’s what this one does. … Ms. Murphy plays the Witch with thrilling ferocity, while Ms. Mueller, the Cinderella of this revival, is the finest young musical-comedy singer to hit New York in the past decade. … The word is that the Public Theater’s “Into the Woods” is going to Broadway. That would be a mistake. … Yes, it would be fun to see Ms. Mueller and Ms. Murphy play Cinderella and the Witch on Broadway – but not like this.