REVIEW: The Hypocrites’ ‘Into the Woods’

February 14, 2014
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

In addition to densely packed lyrics and intricate musical structures, the musicals of Stephen Sondheim are known for their specificity. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is set in a vaudeville version of ancient Rome. “Follies” rests in an about-to-be-torn-down theater.  “A Little Night Music” in Sweden circa 1900. Unlike, say, Stephen Schwartz’ “Pippin” and “Godspell,” there’s not a lot of room to impose a directorial concept on them.

That’s not to say that some haven’t tried. We’ve had “Sweeney Todd” set in a sanitarium. “Merrily We Roll Along” with just stacks of music and a piano for a setting.

And now the Chicago-based producers The Hypocrites offer a radically different look at “Into the Woods" (running through March 30 at Mercury Theatre Chicago).

Well, maybe “radically” is too strong a word. For this production of Sondheim’s fairy-tale mash-up stays true to what Sondheim and book writer James Lapine put on paper.

(For newcomers: In an effort to undo a curse, a childless duo sets off into the unknown to find a series of objects outlined by the next-door witch. In the process, they not only get wrapped up in the stories of Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and Little Red Riding Hood but also encounter the complexities of blame, responsibility, fidelity, desire vs. love, justifiable homicide, and more. In the second act, it’s certainly a combo of Grimm and grim.)

What The Hypocrites bring to the table this time is a playground esthetic and a condensation of the cast.

Apart from a slide that served as Rapunzel’s tower, a toy house serving as a shadow puppet theater for Wolf v. Granny, balloons subbing for trees, —and an actor’s transition from first-act sippy cup to second act beer bottle—the playground makeover gets in the way as often as it brings something fresh and interesting to the table. The doubling—and tripling and quadrupling—of roles sometimes adds antic fun, sometimes unnecessary clutter. I pity first-timer trying to sort out the difference between the Witch and Cinderalla’s mother/spirit (both Hillary Marren), for instance. Once characters start to die off (as happens with great frequency in Act II), some of the power is disipated because the actor remains. In this “Into the Woods,” rarely is anyone alone.

Thankfully, there’s an emotional truth anchored at the center of the show in the person of the Baker (Joel Ewing) whose loss and attempt to find a reason and the strength to regroup is palpable and very, very human.

I applaud the efforts of the entire cast in trying to find unique characterizations beyond the readings familiar from the Broadway production (which was recorded and is widely available). Hannah Dawe as a more-flirtatious-than-usual Little Red and Aubrey McGrath as an angst-ier Jack find nuances, both funny and moving, that I have not seen in other productions.

To a person, the cast sings beautifully while also drawing out the complex, sometimes contradictory emotions behind the tunes. And a five-person off-stage orchestra was a credit to Sondheim’s music.

Even with its flaws, The Hypocrites' "Into the Woods left me yearning  to see more from the company. And yearning for an Indianapolis troupe that would take such a fresh, risk-taking, yet respectful look at great musicals. What would happen if our own No Exit Performance or Q Artistry took a shot at something in the canon?

I wish.


Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?