Into the Woods at Rand Was a Worthwhile Journey

The full cast of Into the Woods, presented by UMass Theater May 2023.
The full cast of Into the Woods, presented by UMass Theater May 2023.

Into the Woods: A Sprawling Combination of Fairy Tales with Modern Twists

We went into the woods on Saturday night with a crazy cast of fairy tale characters at the UMass Rand theater, in a packed house that filled the upper balconies of the steep auditorium with many children in the audience. The production was a solid three hours but the story kept our attention and those fabulous Stephen Sondheim songs kept coming, with some of the best lyrics I can remember.

Sondheim seriously challenges Eminem for combining the most apt rhymes that tumble out of the character’s mouths perfectly. Here’s a snippet from ‘Agony,’ sung by Cinderella’s Prince (Parker Fisher) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Brendan O’Loughlin):

High in her tower she sits by the hourMaintaining her hairBlithe and becoming and frequently hummingA light-hearted airAhAgony, far more painful than yoursWhen you know she would go with youIf there only were doorsAgony, all the torture they teachWhat’s as intriguing or half so fatiguingAs what’s out of reach

The songs were all accompanied by something of a luxury in 2023 theater: A full orchestra conducted by Larry Picard. Below the stage through a visible window, was this full orchestra brimming with violins, horns, flute, and percussion, adding immensely to the whole production.

Some of the actor’s singing deserves special mention: Sophia Chan as Cinderella really showed fine pipes in her numbers, including the beautiful “No One is Alone,” in her deft soprano voice.  Also worth mentioning is the witch, (Sophia Schweik) who came on stage in a bizarre costume with a giant dangling head of an owl and later turned into a beautiful woman who was Cinderella’s mother. Her singing too was strong and noteworthy.

The production moved along well, it told the story we all know, childhood tales that spoke moral lessons: Don’t talk to strangers, the wicked will be punished. Right?  But in this production things go further. In the second act after what seemed to be a perfectly good wrap-up, it’s all done number, we see the characters emerge getting everything they wished for…but it wasn’t that good.

Cinderella is married to the prince who plucked her from her scullery maid hell, Jack has climbed the beanpole and stolen the giant’s golden harp, and the infertile baker couple has challenged the curse and had a son. Now what?   Well, that pesky giant turned out to be a woman, and boy she’s pissed. She wants that boy who stole her harp.

The actors in this large cast all seemed to be having such fun with the clever retorts, and the sassy Little Red (Imani Bibuld) got off some funny lines as she wore the traditional red cape and then a cape made from the hide of a wolf that her grandmother killed.

The orchestra, 14 members strong, had fun with the special effects making the giant’s noises with the drums and some of the musical parts were quite sophisticated, these players had abilities seen in much more experienced orchestras.

Into the Woods, the book was written by James Lapine and was first on Broadway in 1987 where the show won three Tony awards, up against the Phantom of the Opera, a show that finally went dark in 2023.  A revival of the show in 2022 on Broadway was staged until Jan 2023 then it went out on the road.

Into the Woods, UMass Theater. Directed by Rudy Ramirez, musical director David Cavalin, and orchestra conducted by Larry Picard. Production ran May 3-5, 2023.